Unpopular Psychology – Mussar and Logotherapy

I must confess to living with the delusion that if Mussar were explained in its full beauty then people would flock to it, drawn by their heartstrings.  Now that I have become more deeply involved in a sister pursuit known as Logotherapy I have come to a clearer understanding.  Responsibility is not popular and is not likely to become so.  Most of us would like to be utterly free of responsibility and certainly not the type of responsibility whereby we are answerable to another for the execution of that duty.  At best we are happy to be volunteers, taking on tasks but disallowing any claims on our being.  Mussar, and as I have come to understand Logotherapy, is all about responsibility and obligations.  It is about the demands which our humanity and our being in the Divine Image places upon each of us.  It is about the fact that our capacities and our talents each stand as our servants and our masters.  They are our servants for they are tools that we can use however we wish to accomplish every goal that those capacities are designed to achieve, and they are our masters, for they relentlessly demand to be utilized in the service of the greater good of my becoming more human and more like my Creator.  I enjoy my talents when they serve me and bring me glory; I loathe them when they lay claim to my attention.  Now go back to the previous sentence and replace the word ‘talents’ with the words ‘children’ or ‘neighbor’ or ‘Torah study’ or ‘generosity’ and see how pervasive this feeling is.

Mussar is about being called by our great humanity as well as the guidelines for how to respond to that call.  Logotherapy is about the fact that only this call humanizes us and to ignore the call is to feel empty and frustrated, for only when a tool is used properly can it feel right.  Logotherapy opens our understanding that our emotional, spiritual and, ultimately, physical health hang in the balance of being responsible while Mussar shows us how such basic responsibility can lead to being crowned with Commandments and Torah.

We are meant to thank our Creator every day for being responsible, and ultimately to thank Him for having sanctified us with His Commandments.  That somehow does not sound like the plot of a bestseller.

And hence, we proudly present, unpopular psychology.  Gone are the enticing bits of blaming our upbringing and our environment; the juicy morsels of characterizing ourselves as this type or that, the popular exemptions of co-dependence and addiction, the endlessly popular emphasis on the urgency of bodily desires which make for a brotherhood of mediocrity, failure and guilt.  Here we find the man-master, capable, powerful – and answerable.

Let others answer the call.  I’ll read their stories and applaud them from my comfortable perch as a volunteer actor on the stage of the human drama.  Their greatness can also be popular, filling the void in my life with pseudo-growth the same way that putting down others serves to create the illusion of my growth.  Assuming responsibility as one who is commissioned, obligated and answerable is hardly the fodder for a page-turner.  For the author is none other than oneself and the ink and the pages are the talents and capacities with which we are each endowed.

May we each merit to be considered by our Creator as master practitioners of unpopular psychology.

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6 Responses to Unpopular Psychology – Mussar and Logotherapy

  1. Wow! This certainly resonates with me and stirs up many thoughts. I will only mention one of them. Upon leaving the hotel at the end of the logotherapy conference in Dallas, the cab driver turned to me and said: “Are you from this conference? I’ve met several people from it and I never saw anything like it before. I never saw a conference where everyone is so happy!” So perhaps we need to turn our attention to the minority and ask: Why are people involved in Mussar and/or Logotherapy so happy to be responsible and answer the call? What’s their secret?

  2. E.D.Becker says:

    Indeed! One of the (many) reasons for the strange urge to share the secrets of Mussar and Logotherapy (and hence the fantasy of its becoming a mass-movement) is because it feels so good to be human in the ways that we were designed to be that we just want to share it with our fellow travelers. Did you hear the one about… We wish to share our joy. Indeed, one of our challenges is to make sure that we ‘get it’ for ourselves and not only share it as a bystander.

    Thank you so much for commenting!

  3. Haya Winiarz says:

    Rabbi Becker,
    Your words in response to Batya’s wonderful experience, “it feels so good to be human in the ways that we were designed to be that we just want to share it with our fellow travelers” sum up what your excellent article evoked in me. I can imagine a time in the not so distant future in which the psychology of responsibility will be the most popular of all approaches, especially when presented as the freshness of human mental health at it’s best. These are the notions which cheer one to get up in the morning and serve a higher calling with joy through every task in life! Thank you, Haya

  4. Isaac Kasztl says:

    Very well written as always. Lot’s of great insight and very inspirational!

  5. marcia greenwald says:

    I GREW UP WITH my mother’s maxim’s, one of which was,”I was not put on this earth to win a popularity contest!”

    The implications were that “… none of us is…so do something!”

    Yishar Kochacha

  6. kourosh says:

    Subject : Use of Film in Exposure therapy for PTSD- Increase in acceptance and meaning ?

    Dear Sir/Madam ,
    I’m looking for evidence that people suffering from PTSD, who are treated with exposure therapy (under the conditions you outlined in your previous email, i.e. using empirically validated treatment & used with wisdom and caution) where film is a component part, can aid the client in feeling that their traumatic experience and reaction (PTSD) is not unique and consequently they feel more normal and accepting of themselves.
    Does such evidence exist?
    If it does exist, is there a further link to an increase in the individual feeling or finding a sense of ‘meaning in life’ as outlined in logotherapy?
    Thanks again for your advice.

    Best wishes,

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