Man’s Search for Himself

Rollo May’s book from 1953 is oddly appropriate many decades later, mentioning the “semi-psychotic state, Third World War and catastrophe hovering around the corner.” The first half of the book was devoured greedily, but then I got somewhat bored by the last parts. He quotes T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men a lot, along with Kafka, Goethe, Freud (who always gets some adjective like “venerable” before his name).

May says, “The chief problem of people in the middle decade of the twentieth century is emptiness.” People don’t know what they want or even what they feel.  Another common characteristic is loneliness: “when a person does not know with any inner conviction what he wants or what he feels… he senses danger and his natural reaction is to look around for other people who will give him some sense of direction or comfort that he is not alone in his fright.” He mentions the anxiety that swept over the world “like a tidal wave when the first atom bomb exploded over Hiroshima,” causing interior panic since no one knew which way the world would turn.

To combat this aloneness, we gather in useless groups. May dips into a typical cocktail hour where people meet the same people every night and have the same conversations. “What is important is not what is said, but that some talk be continually going on.”

Another scary parallel to today’s hyper-connected world of false sentiment expressed in Likes, Claps, or various other virtual reality praise:

Since the dominant values for most people in our society are being liked, accepted and approved of, much anxiety in our day comes from the threat of not being liked, being isolated, lonely or cast off.

May points out the oddity that radio programs frequently signed off with “Thanks for listening.”…

Why should the person who is doing the entertaining thank the receiver for taking it? To acknowledge applause is one thing, but thanking the recipient for deigning to listen and be amused is quite a different thing. It betokens that the action is given its value by the whim of the consumer.

Hate yourself? Probably part of the reason you hate other people:

The self-condemning substitute provides the individual with a rationalization for his self-hate, and thus reinforces the tendencies toward hating himself. And, inasmuch as one’s attitudes toward other selves generally parallel one’s attitude toward one’s self, one’s covert tendency to hate others is also rationalized and reinforced. The steps are not big from the feeling of worthlessness of one’s self to self-hatred to hatred for others.