Las Vegas Challenge
President, International Network on Personal Meaning
Coquitlam, B.C., Canada
A number of people have asked me: “Why go to
Las Vegas for a Planning Retreat for the International Network on
Personal Meaning (INPM)? Don’t you think that Las Vegas is the wrong
place to look for meaning?”
My answer has been: “Las Vegas has warm, sunny
weather and bargain hotel rates.” By the way, I may also add that
the founder of logotherapy, Dr. Viktor Frankl, had three wishes—one
of which was gambling. (His other two wishes were being the first
man to climb the highest mountain and being a neurosurgeon).
I really did not have a satisfactory answer
until I read Thomas Homer-Dixon’s (2000) book entitled “The Ingenuity
Gap” during my Christmas holiday. His penultimate chapter is on
During Homer-Dixon’s visit to Las Vegas, the
Comdex convention was taking place. Comdex is perhaps the world’s
largest computer, communication, and software trade show with more
than two hundred thousand attendees. Here are some of his observations:
Comdex and Las Vegas make a fitting combination:
Together, they mingle computers, gambling, and the fantasies of
a postadolescent playland...The different worlds of computers, gambling,
and fantasy fit together surprisingly seamlessly, as if they reflect
each other’s essences in some kind of triangular relationship. Gambling
is, after all, about living a fantasy of sudden riches; computers
allow us to create virtual worlds that erase the line between reality
and fantasy; and the jackpots of the information revolution have
produced the new billionaires of the 1980s and 1990s. (p. 314)
Las Vegasizing America
Las Vegas, in short, stands as a monument to
what can be accomplished when human ingenuity (human capital) is
wedded to big money (financial capital). This union has created
a glamorous new world that can feed people’s fantasy for instant
wealth and instant pleasure. Las Vegas is the capital of impossible
But do we want to embrace the Las Vegasizing
of America as our vision for this new millennium? Can Las Vegas
transform the “desert condition” of human existence? Just watch
the empty faces of those lonely souls in front of the slot machines,
and you will know the answer.
We desire wealth without asking to what end.
We pursue material gain that cannot satisfy our inner void. Continued
economical growth needs to be fuelled by our insatiable greed and
conspicuous consumption. But there are inherent limitations and
dangers to Las Vegasizing America:
- Greed is good only for the “lucky few” but
bad for the majority.
- Immense wealth and power without a moral
compass often lead to self-destruction.
- Un-ending economic growth may widen the gap
between the haves and the have-nots.
- Social problems, such as poverty and racism,
grow bigger when we seek refuge in a fantasyland.
- The bubble of ever-rising expectations will
- Prosperity without a purpose contributes
to addiction (including gambling).
- Electronically mediated connections without
community lead to isolation and alienation.
- Rapid technological innovation increases
stress and contributes to dehumanization.
The New Counter-Culture
The Las Vegas challenge is the need for a bold,
alternative vision for our civilization. The challenge is to create
a positive culture on the strength of social capital and spiritual
capital, which are essential for healthy personal and community
development. This is where INPM can play a role.
The main purpose of the Planning Retreat is
to discuss how to take up this gigantic challenge. If a huge complex
of resort hotels and casinos can be created out of a desert as a
result of Bugsy Siegel’s vision, so a large network of positive
individuals and transformative communities can be created as a result
of INPM’s vision and endeavour.
At last year’s International Conference on Searching
for Meaning in the New Millennium, I envisioned a positive revolution
to counter-act the dominant paradigm of unlimited economic growth
through technological innovation and global competition.
There are already telltale signs of this new
counter-culture: the grass-roots movement of random kindness, the
widespread hunger for spirituality and meaning, and the longing
for belonging to a transformative community. INPM has been on the
forefront of this growing movement.
The Vision of INPM
The mission statement of INPM is—“Health, Spirituality
and Peace through Meaning”. Building primarily on the seminal work
of Viktor Frankl, we want to promote meaningful living as one of
the promising pathways to health, spirituality and peace. There
is already considerable support to this approach (Wong & Fry, 1998).
Our objectives include:
- Facilitate individuals’ quest for meaning
- Facilitate organizational transformation
to become meaningful work places and communities.
- Develop social and spiritual capital through
promoting meaningful and responsible living in all age groups.
- Promote research on positive psychology and
psychotherapy with a focus on meaning and spirituality.
- Integrate science and religion in enhancing
our understanding of meaning and spirituality.
- Co-ordinate and co-operate with all individuals
and groups to serve the needs of the personal growth and community
- Build bridges between cultures and religions
through meaningful dialogues and understanding the commonality
of the humanity.
- Serve as catalyst, as a grand central station
to inject humanity and spirituality into an increasingly digital,
The above positive vision will provide a much-needed
balance to a society obsessed with economic growth and materialistic
gains. There are already indications, from research as well as clinical
observations, progress without a purpose will not improve the quality
of life. We believe that it is high time to recognize the importance
of spiritual and social capital.
Spiritual and Social Capital
This new vision is built on the foundation of
two Vienna giants—Viktor Frankl and Alfred Adler. The former emphasizes
spiritual capital, while the later focuses on social capital.
Spiritual capital encompasses meaning and purpose,
values and conscience, choice and responsibility, self-transcendence
and the spiritual dimension. Frankl believes that confidence in
the defiant human spirit, coupled with faith in God, enables people
to maintain positive meaning in spite of pain and suffering.
Social capital includes civil duties, close
ties with family and community, compassion, social justice, trust,
cooperation, and reciprocity. Adler believes that social interest
is the cornerstone to a meaningful life, because we have a primary
need to belong and serve others, and our need for personal significance
comes from making a significant contribution to the group.
Ultimately, solutions for many social and individual
problems cannot be found without resorting to spiritual and social
capital. When these two resources are depleted, we will experience
more problems in adapting to the social changes brought about by
INPM promotes the development of spiritual and
social capital through our website, publications, conferences and
networking. We aspire to be a major life force for positive transformation—this
is our Las Vegas challenge. We hope that all of our partners will
work together to rise to this challenge.