The prevailing COVID-19 pandemic has created immense suffering around the world. Psychologists worldwide are trying to understand the mental health implications of the pandemic and are coming up with various ways and means to combat this suffering. Surprisingly, most of these approaches look at suffering as something to be avoided as it is ‘negative’. However, Dr. Paul T. P. Wong provides a ground breaking perspective in this regard. He suggests that the prevailing understanding of things as binary involving either/or thinking is heavily flawed and must be discarded, and in its place a paradoxical approach needs to be adopted.
As an experienced clinical psychologist, superannuated professor of psychology, and an ardent follower of Viktor Frankl, Dr. Wong looks at suffering as an inevitable part of life. As opposed to others who look at suffering as something ‘negative’, Dr. Wong looks at suffering as a fertile ground for self-transcendence and understanding the true value and meaning of life. He truly believes that we should try to find meaning in suffering.
Propagating the ancient Daoist wisdom, Dr. Wong states that “our best self comes from our worst self and worst circumstances.” The suffering created by the pandemic reflects the worst circumstances in our life. People all over the world are experiencing feelings of distress, hopelessness and meaninglessness. The lifelong work of Dr. Wong based on the teachings of Frankl has revealed three crucial insights: ‘true positivity’ is the ability to see the light in the darkness; ‘true success’ involves embracing the dark side and turning it into the foundation for achieving one’s highest value; and ‘good life’ means finding a balance between opposite forces. Dr Wong gives a special place to ‘awe’. Inspired by the work of Frankl Dr. Wong firmly believes that Frankl’s self-transcendence model gives a much deeper understanding of awe.
Dr. Wong’s ideas are rooted in scientific work and clinical experiences, and through wisdom achieved through these he suggests various ways by which we can utilize our innate capabilities and coping skills to deal with the pandemic and the pain and suffering caused by it. His new vision of resilience in the face of uncertain future is truly remarkable and commendable. He suggests that sustainable flourishing can only be achieved by overcoming suffering.
“Nothing but self-transcendence can save us,” states Dr. Wong. So according to him, to cope with the enormous suffering created by the pandemic effectively, we need to look deeply into our own soul which can be done by confronting our shadow, changing our negative mindset about suffering, understanding the power of self-transcendental love, and practicing self-transcendence in order to thrive.
I believe Dr. Wong has provided us very deep yet simple answers to life’s most complicated problems, the most recent being the pandemic. If we understand the true meaning of his work, recognize his tireless efforts to reach out to the public, and practice the strategies for well-being as proposed by him, we will benefit immensely from it.
Dr. Pooja V. Anand is Assistant Professor, Psychology Department, Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi