Monthly Archives: July, 2013

man’s search for meaning

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

man's-search-for-meaningAnd there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.

Seen from this point of view, the mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions. Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone.

— Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor E. Frankl)


I was just on my way to the supermarket when I took notice of this particular book which was displayed prominently in this kiosk-type bookstore of old books. It was situated near the entrance of the supermarket. I approached it with curiosity and upon discovering who the author was of this already “dilapidated” book (except its pages) probably due to the previous owner’s neglect, I got a clue right away what this book is about. I was happy that I bought it for P29.

The author was Viktor E. Frankl, one of the survivors of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps, where during World War II, the torture, slavery, and massacre of millions of people mostly Jews took place.

Although I already have that vivid memory of what happened to them in concentration camps after seeing Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful” and most especially, the most unforgettable one, Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” (which, I must admit, is one of those type of movies, like “The Exorcist,” that I’d like to see only once, or if ever I’m ready to watch it again, would involve gap years between the first time and the second time because of too much evilness and horror it contains), this time, I wanted to hear the story straight from the man who was there, a person who became a mere number in the eyes of the enemies, and made it his decision to stay alive to tell us his story.

“I had intended to write this book anonymously, using my prison number only. But when the the manuscript was completed, I saw that as an anonymous publication it would lose half of its value, and that I must have the courage to state my convictions openly. I therefore refrained from deleting any of the passages, in spite of an intense dislike of exhibitionism.

“As this story is about my experiences as an ordinary prisoner, it is important that I mention, not without pride, that I was not employed as a psychiatrist in camp, or even as a doctor, except for the last few weeks. A few of my colleagues were lucky enough to be employed in poorly heated first-aid posts applying bandages made of scraps of waste paper. But I was Number 119,104, and most of the time I was digging and laying tracks for railway lines. At one time, my job was to dig a tunnel, without help, for a water main under a road.”

I thought I am fully aware already of the episodes that happened in the concentration camps – thanks to the movies I have mentioned – where crimes were committed with impunity but there was a single detail that I did not know about, particularly about the people who executed the inhuman acts. It was this thing about the Capos, or “prisoners who acted as trustees, having special privileges,” who were assigned to torture and exterminate their fellow prisoners.

Frankl shared:

“While these ordinary prisoners had little or nothing to eat, the Capos were never hungry; in fact many of the Capos fared better in the camp than they had in their entire lives. Often they were harder on the prisoners than were the guards, and beat them more cruelly than the SS men did. These Capos, of course, were chosen only from those prisoners whose characters promised to make them suitable for such procedures, and if they did not comply with what was expected of them, they were immediately demoted.

“The process of selecting Capos was a negative one; only the most brutal of the prisoners were chosen for this job (although there were some happy exceptions). But apart from the selection of Capos which was undertaken by the SS, there was a sort of self-selecting process going on the whole time among all the prisoners. On the average, only those prisoners could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp, had lost all scruples in their fight for existence; they were prepared to use every means, honest and otherwise, even brutal force, theft, and betrayal of their friends, in order to save themselves.”

Further on, he said: “If someone now asked of us the truth of Dostoevski’s statement that flatly defines man as a being who can get used to anything, we would reply, ‘Yes, a man can get used to anything, but do not ask us how.”

Instead of giving me a blow by blow account of the horror he and his inmates experienced during Adolf Hitler’s autocratic rule in Germany, Frankl wrote it in two perspectives: as a former prisoner and as a psychiatrist. So there were times that I would listen to his stories like an eager child wanting to learn from an old man who went through hell and back, who was now peacefully sharing his unforgettable experiences as a prisoner in the concentration camp because of the war…

“I shall never forget how I was roused one night by the groans of a fellow prisoner, who threw himself about in his sleep, obviously having a horrible nightmare. Since I had always been especially sorry for people who suffered from fearful dreams or deliria, I wanted to wake the poor man. Suddenly I drew back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do. At that moment I become intensely conscious of the fact that no dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us, and to which I was about to recall him.”

… and there were also times when I would find myself reading his “detached” observations as a psychiatrist, sharing to me the three stages of psychological reactions that he and his inmates went through from the time they were admitted to the camps until they were released…

“Apathy, the blunting of the emotions and the feeling that one could not care anymore, were the symptoms arising during the second stage of the prisoner’s psychological reactions, and which eventually made him insensitive to daily and hourly beatings. By means of this insensibility the prisoner soon surrounded himself with a very necessary protective shell.”

… and how the way of life of the prisoners revealed some frightening information about human nature, what man is capable of, that Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) would find hard to believe.

Frankl shared:

“Sigmund Freud once asserted, ‘Let one attempt to expose a number of the most diverse people uniformly to hunger. With the increase of the imperative urge of hunger all individual differences will blur, and in their stead will appear the uniform expression of the one unstilled urge.’ Thank heaven, Sigmund Freud was spared knowing the concentration camps from the inside. His subjects lay on a couch designed in the plush style of Victorian culture, not in the filth of Auschwitz. There, the ‘individual differences’ did not ‘blur’ but, on the contrary, people became more different; people unmasked themselves, both the swine and the saints. And today you need no longer hesitate to use the word ‘saints’: think of Father Maximilian Kolbe who was starved and finally murdered by an injection of carbolic acid at Auschwitz and who in 1983 was canonized.”

It has often been said that goodness is innate in a man. But what happened in the concentration camps showed a different story. Many men in power, or in whatever little power they had, became Mephistophelean beings thirsty for blood and pain of other people which leads me now to ask: for three years, how could they remain so stoic, merciless and stonehearted?!

Frankl answered: “First, among the guards there were some sadists, sadists in the purest clinical sense… Fourth, it must be stated that even among the guards there were some who took pity on us… From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two – the ‘race’ of the decent man and the ‘race’ of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of ‘pure race’ — and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.”

May I also ask, how did the prisoners, like Frankl himself, were able to find the courage to stay alive amid the malnourishment and diseases that afflicted them, the degradation and humiliation they were put on? With such unspeakable cruelty, why did they not commit suicide like what others did?

Frankl said: “There is nothing in the world , I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life. There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.’ I can see in these words a motto which holds true for any psychotherapy. In the Nazi concentration camps, one could have witnessed that those who knew that there was a task waiting for them to fulfill (‘in one life there is love for one’s children to tie to; in another life, a talent to be used; in a third, perhaps only lingering memories worth preserving’) were most apt to survive. The same conclusion has since been reached by other authors of books on concentration camps, and also by psychiatric investigations into Japanese, North Korean and North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camps.”

From his personal experiences that I was able to highlight here, it led Frankl to formulate a new way of thinking in psychotherapy. He called it logotherapy. So how is this different from other schools of thought in psychotherapy? This time I will quote George W. Allport, formerly a professor of psychology at Harvard University, who was responsible in introducing this revolutionary theory in the U.S. He said:

“One cannot help but compare Viktor Frankl’s approach to theory and therapy with the work of his predecessor, Sigmund Freud. Both physicians concern themselves primarily with the nature and cure of neuroses. Freud finds the root of these distressing disorders in the anxiety caused by conflicting and unconscious motives. Frankl distinguishes several forms of neurosis, and traces some of them (the noogenic neuroses) to the failure of the sufferer to find meaning and a sense of responsibility in his existence. Freud stresses frustration in the sexual life; Frankl, frustration in the ‘will-to-meaning.’ In Europe today there is a marked turning away from Freud and a widespread embracing of existential analysis, which takes several related forms – the school of logotherapy being one. It is characteristic of Frankl’s tolerant outlook that he does not repudiate Freud, but builds gladly on his contributions; nor does he quarrel with other forms of existential therapy, but welcomes kinship with them.”

This bestselling book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997) was first published in Austria in 1946. I am holding its 1984 edition.

30 Nov 2011

sittin’ up in my room

It’s been two months and I’d better do something about my bedroom that’s already disagreeable to my senses.

The surest indicator that my bedroom is in a disgusting state of condition is when I’m seeing different cobwebs and dust found beside, around, and under my bed.  Name it:  there’s the cotton-like black balls of dust, the zigzagging cobwebs, there’s the elegant and elaborate cobweb that bridged the gap between my bed and the wall.  I also see long fluffy streamers of cobweb and there’s another kind, the super thin strands of webs that you can’t see but only feel.  And of course, how could I forget, that one itsy, bitsy spider that’s been quietly hanging around in my room for I don’t know how long.

It was an emergency so I decided to spend the last hours of my Saturday (that’s last night) by giving my bedroom the attention it deserves.   I admit that I’ve long neglected the cleaning of my room because of other things, issues that I’ve been paying more attention to, more than it deserves.  Even if I’m dealing with some problems and dilemmas, I musn’t forget that I still have other duties needing my attention, that are also important.  I’m talking about household chores.  One of them, of course, is cleaning up my bedroom.

I started with the clothes cabinet first.  I had to remove all the contents and put it in the meantime on my bed.  Once the cabinet was empty, I wiped the insides and its outer body and top with a clean, damp cloth. Then I wiped it dry using a clean, old hanky of mine.  Every nook and cranny of the cabinet I cleaned.   After that, I washed my hands then I sorted out the clothes on my bed, categorizing them according to their usage and separating the ones that I have to give away ‘cause they no longer suit me.  While sorting the clothes, my mind had a trip down memory lane, both good and bad.

I feel bad I gained weight that I could no longer wear some of my favorite clothes because of eating too much junk food, cakes, and chocolate-flavored desserts—an addiction that I’m slowly trying to get rid of.  (Now I understand the smokers or the alcoholics who want to quit but find it difficult to do so!) Not to mention, a no-exercise lifestyle or sedentary. Or perhaps, I could attribute it to my nature:  I don’t really move a lot.  Should a painter paints me, it would be a breeze because I could sit on a chair like a statue. I once overheard my mother as a kid telling her colleague that as a baby, I don’t really move a lot inside her tummy.  Anyway, so much for my “historical” analysis.  So now and for two months already, I’ve been lessening my too salty, too sweet food intake.  I want to eradicate my hunger for them but for now it’s impossible so “eliminating” is the word here for the meantime.

I have jeans that I couldn’t wear anymore  and blouses and polos that seemed to have shrink ‘cause of my weight gain but because I looked good in them when I was still thin, I am not giving them away.  I still have hopes that in a few months I’d be able to go back to my previous weight.  Sadly, I gave a lot of my clothes that I bought just last year.  Not only because they are now ill-fitting to me, but because they all carry memories that I’d rather not be reminded of, at times, they reminded me how cumbersome it was to wear them while commuting. (Maybe another person, whoever that person is, could carry those clothes better.) I’ll just make do with what I have right now and when I have extra money, I’ll buy new ones in replacement of those that I gave away.

The arranged clothes were put back in the closet. Then I swept away with a broom the cobwebs and dust that gathered around and under my bed. Then I cleaned up this hanging equipment, the three-layered table (I don’t know how it’s properly called), then I wiped the floor, using a sponge, with water and a little soap then immediately wiping it dry with a newspaper before I put back my intimate, precious little stuff in the room.

Saving the best for last was my bed.  I wiped with a damp cloth its body made of wood to remove the dust.  Afterwards, I took a rest, had a quick bath, then after a few minutes rest, I changed the bedsheet and pillowcase.  Looking at my clean bedroom, it felt good to have a nice place where I can have a good night’s rest.  While sitting up in my room, I try to reflect about my day.  Then I went down to sleep.

love advice

Not from me, but from them.

richard gomez“You have to be 100 percent sure when you walk down the aisle. Otherwise, you might as well turn your back because it’s not going to get better.”

— Richard Gomez


“No point in trying to impress a person and putting your best foot forward paolo bedionesbecause that foot will get tired and eventually step back and reveal the real you.  From the get-go, be who you are so you know that a person truly accepts and loves you despite your flaws and shortcomings.”

— Paolo Bediones


pinky amador“Be the person you want to end up with.  If you want an honest, loving partner, you need to become that first.”

— Pinky Amador



“What’s for you won’t pass you. – Irish Saying”  julia clarete

— Julia Clarete

Source:  Philippine Daily Inquirer

four sisters and a wedding

Four-Sisters-and-a-Wedding[6]Once upon a time there were four little girls, all siblings, who prayed of having a baby brother.  When their wish was granted, they cared and loved for that baby brother like he’s the most important person in the whole wide world.  These sisters love each other but when it comes to their only brother, their love were overflowing, the most precious thing.

Then they grew up and pursued their own careers.  Two of the sisters went abroad.  The eldest, Teddie, worked in Italy, while the second one, Bobbie, who became the most successful among the siblings, was based in New York.  The middle child, Alex, was a production crew.  Gabbie, the youngest of all the girls, was a public school teacher.   CJ, their baby brother, got a girlfriend of three months and had already asked her hand for marriage.

The sisters, upon receiving the news that their baby brother was engaged to be married to a girl they haven’t met, their highly protective instinct came to the fore and after five years reunited and secretly conspired to stop the wedding. And they felt they were right about their instinct when they saw THE fiancée of their brother.  More so the family of the girl whom they all find weirdos despite being rich.  And that gave them the strong resolve to think of a better, discreet way to change their brother’s mind before it’s too late.  They feel that their brother deserves someone better!

While they’re all under one roof thinking of any maneuver to stop the wedding, certain issues and problems about the sisters were revealed.

Teddie, the eldest, the one who graduated with honors, a valedictorian, and was working in Italy as a teacher, turned out to be hiding a humiliating truth about herself from her family—that she got laid off because her employer told her she wasn’t good enough.  Embarrassed to return home, she endured holding two lowly jobs as a waitress and as a maid and kept this a secret.  Bobbie, the New Yorker and known as the most successful one among the siblings, had been carrying deep-seated insecurities for a long time.  Not to mention, learning how to deal with her boyfriend’s daughter who hates her to the core.  Alex, the middle child, was unfairly labeled as the black sheep of the family for stealing her sister Bobbie’s ex-boyfriend.  She and Bobbie, who were once upon a time so closed with each other, were now arch-enemies.

And they all had to deal with these differences and secrets while they were plotting ways to find out some hidden ugly truth about their brother’s fiancée and her family and eventually stop the wedding which, in the end, only led them to the exposure of the ugly truths about themselves, that they’re also imperfect.

Four Sisters and a Wedding stars Toni Gonzaga, Angel Locsin, Enchong Dee, Bea Alonzo, and Shaina Magdayao.  A movie directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina from Star Cinema.


Movie trailer of “Four Sisters and a Wedding”

rules for being human

Everybody fails, errs, and makes mistakes.  You’ve heard the saying “To err is human, to forgive divine.”  Alexander Pope wrote that over 250 years ago. And he was only paraphrasing an ancient saying that was common during the time of the Romans.  Recently I came across something called “Rules for Being Human.”  I think several of these describe well the state we’re in:

Rule #1:  You will learn lessons.

Rule #2:  There are no mistakes– only lessons.

Rule #3:  A lesson is repeated until it is learned.

Rule #4:  If you don’t learn the easy lessons, they get harder.

Rule #5:  You’ll know you’ve learned a lesson when your actions change.

You see, writer Norman Cousins was right when he said, “The essence of man is imperfection.”  Failure is simply a price we pay to achieve success.  If we learn to embrace that new definition of failure, then we are free to start moving ahead– and failing forward.

Taken from the book “Leadership:  Promises for Everyday” by John Maxwell, Copyright 2003


ELMER (Gerry Alanguilan)

“There’s this story of chicken that I really liked and felt good about, and if in the end nobody liked it but me, then I would have no regrets.  As with anything I have ever done, I always did what I wanted, and what I felt was right.  I trusted that feeling.”

–Gerry Alanguilan

elmercoverElmer, a comic book, is now on its second edition and was published two years ago, around 2011, coinciding with the release of the fourth issue of Trese, another comic book created by another Filipino authors.  Back then, I wasn’t interested.  Knowing that the characters are chickens, I assumed that I wouldn’t like it.  And knowing that the creator is not a good-looking middle-aged guy, I thought I would just ignore it.

So the one that caught my eye was Trese 4, and when I bought my own copy of it for the first time it has already gained a cult following from comic readers.  Until I got hooked as well to the episodes of Trese 4 (it’s a plus factor that the lead protagonist is a girl) and as soon as I have saved enough money, I bought the three previous issues of Trese.

About two weekends ago, I read a review about “Elmer” in Philippine Daily Inquirer.  I regret not cutting out that article because now I forgot the name of the author whom I would like to thank for.  It’s because, thanks to his article, he encouraged me to finally buy my own copy of “Elmer” by Gerry Alanguilan.  And it was good timing that it was payday just days prior.  I also wanted to buy Alanguilan’s “Wasted” but it’s not available.

Now, this comic book about chickens.

Turns out the characters here aren’t just chickens.  There are also humans which made it all weird right from the start.  Can you imagine living in a world where chickens could talk?  Where chickens have the right to fall in love not just with their own kind, but also with humans, and vice versa?  How about fighting for your rights as a chicken just to gain acceptance from humans who rule the world?  And how did they deal about the unexpected phenomenon that just out of the blue, these chickens woke up blessed with “intelligence and consciousness of humans?”

For me, what made the story relatable to me is the interaction between the members of the Gallo family, a family of chickens, the lead protagonists of the story, and their dealings with their human counterparts.  If this were a movie, Elmer, the father, turns out to be just a supporting actor to his eldest son, Jake, the surprising main character of the story.  But as a reader, this isn’t just a fictionalized story of humans and chickens living side by side in a world that is “complicated, dangerous and yet beautiful” that was drawn in black and white which what became now as “Elmer,” a comic book.  I may sound so simple, but those chickens in the story are US.

In this world that is filled with lies and contempt and con artists, “Elmer” is refreshing for its honesty. I am deeply drawn to how the comic story was meticulously and beautifully drawn, so beautiful that I could feel the emotions of every character in the story that sometimes I felt that I am Jake.  Sometimes I felt I am Elmer.  Sometimes I am farmer Ben.   Sometimes Michael.  But most important of all, I was deeply touched (with tears in my eyes) with the loyalty and friendship that was formed between a human being and a family of chickens.  So touched that upon closing the book, I suddenly miss them.

To Mr. Gerry Alanguilan, I’m so sorry for being judgmental.  You looked like a goon but you turned out to be an angel in disguise.  And you did the right thing.  Thanks for sharing the story of Elmer.