According to Harvey Sacks “doing being ordinary” is a job we all have to learn to enable us to know how to fill in the oceans of time we have unless we choose to fill it up with useless minutii to stop ourselves from doing the real work of creative living. Since much of it is spent with other people, unless we are recluses, we need to find a way to talk and behave that will not get us into unnecessary difficulties.
We are a gregarious species. Most of us want to be of use to ourselves by finding a suitable occupation that we can enjoy and being able to make friends. This sounds very simple but it is not. If it were we wouldn’t have so many people trying to “help” us. Whenever I have been asked why I wanted to be a therapist the question is usually “Ah you want to help people?” My answer was “Well no. I want to help people to help themselves.” That is something quite different.
During my long life I gradually learned that I should be very careful when I began to feel sorry for someone. If I saw anyone in what I thought was distress, I leapt in without thought. I wasted time in this unfortunate habit instead of putting myself first.
When I began work as a therapist I had still not completely outgrown this belief, but I was well on the way to it. I wrote my second book “So You Want to be a Therapist” to help those who wanted to help others by telling them about the pitfalls that can get in the way of doing the job properly. We all need to remember that we must not get tangled up in another person’s distress. Our job was to help clients to understand how they got into an unhappy state, so that they were able to change their own attitudes to life.
One of my favourite books is Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”. A Jewish Psychotherapist, who was imprisoned in a concentration camp from 1942 – 1945. His parents and his wife all died there. He describes in detail the terrible experiences of all the prisoners. He was determined to survive so that he could continue his work. He learned to harden himself to all the suffering going on around him when as a doctor he could do nothing about it. He wrote “Man can preserve a vestage of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and spiritual stress.”
He also said “What was ultimately responsible for the state of the prisoner’s inner self was not so much the enumerated psychophysical causes as it was a free decision.”
He was released by the American forces. He went to the states where he continued his studies and developed a form of psychotherapy that he called Logotherapy. He married again and had a daughter. He eventually went back to Vienna. He did wonderful work and was devoid of bitterness. He was very well liked and lived into his nineties in spite of his dreadful experiences. His “doing being ordinary” was of a very high quality.