The Hat Woman and the Scholar
Viktor Frankl, a famous psychoanalyst, speaks in his well-known book about Man’s Search for Meaning. He needed to find meaning/understanding in his unbearably tormented existence in the concentration camp during the Hitlerian Holocaust. Frankl stressed that life in itself has meaning. Even life in a concentration camp had meaning and it is important to recognize what the specific meaning is and understand, as well as we are able, the feeling of our fellow brethrens.
Among the common human needs that Charlotte Towle (a well known social worker) described in her book, there are, in addition to the common needs, the need for love, acceptance and recognition, the need to be counted, to be needed, to be of worth, to make a difference. It is said that we are just a grain of sand in this world. If this is examined more closely we find that a grain of sand can create havoc if it is in our eye. In addition, one person can matter enormously. We may look at individuals like Jonas Salk, the inventor of a vaccine that saved lives of untold millions, Albert Einstein, who brought to light the Theory of Relativity, Adolf Hitler, who destroyed six million, and more. All of these “single grains of sand” changed our universe.
From infancy and throughout the life cycle we see the need to get attention. The infant receives this through crying, through smiling, through pleasing his or her caregiver. The young child gains attention by actions - by performance. An example is the child who had painstakingly learned to swim and wanted to show what she could do. She turned to her friend’s mother, demonstrated a few strokes and shouted: “Mrs. F. Look, look at me, look at me!”
Dr. Walter, a professor/scholar, had the highest achievement record in his university. His knowledge seemed to have no bounds, he researched, wrote and published a book every year, he taught and was outstanding among his colleagues. This gave this gentleman recognition, response, accolades and a great deal of attention. Looking into his background, we find that this man had a very precarious, impoverished childhood. He came to America with his parents and siblings after having escaped from the gas ovens of the Nazis without money, clothing and no knowledge of the English language. He became the class scapegoat, being teased mercilessly by his classmates. Because of his unusual intelligence, he learned and retained an enormous amount of knowledge. He was determined not to be ridiculed and put his energy into his subjects. He worked very hard and diligently. Aside from having after school jobs to help support his parents, he always found time to read thick volumes of history books, literature and current events. His interests were diverse and his thirst for knowledge was more than strong. He was not only determined never to go hungry again but to be recognized not as a refugee but as a scholar, a person who counts, a person who feels that he has made a difference in the world.
Malke, a tall, ungainly, rather homely woman, and a retired teacher, always has had the need to be important. Her childhood was within normal limits. She was born into a middle size American city and was raised by two Jewish parents. She always envied her siblings and wanted to be “better” than they. She wanted to be “the boss”. In that she succeeded. She became a grade school teacher and was able to domineer small children. Wherever she appeared she needed to be seen and heard. She became a “Macher” (officer in the conservative Temple in which she was a member), flattering those whom she considered important people and sneered at those who she felt antagonistic toward. She chose the “underlings” by her own definition and became verbally abusive to those who she felt were somehow in her way. (Her spouse, a relative “non-person”, an unsuccessful businessman, sometimes complained to fellow congregants that he would at times want to divorce her). She had insatiable inner pressure to stand out in the proverbial crowd and would meet a small part of her urges by wearing enormous hats of great variety and eye catching bright, crass colors. She would rush to the front of the Temple, frequently take a place on the “Bimah” (pulpit). She, like Mr. W., was noticed. Not unlike the dunce in school who allegedly wore a triangular high “dunce cap,” she was noticed and succeeded in a pathological fashion to meet her ambitions to be someone, to have meaning.
As upstanding, feeling human beings, we must differentiate between the scholar, the intellectual and the woman with the hat. We must remember that which is important in our lives, recognize our need to be needed and to count and do it in a fashion that will meet our expectations and at the same time help humanity in whatever fashion we are able.
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).