When all you've ever wanted isn't enough.
Harold Kushner. Summit Books, $16.95. Jungian therapist Peter O'Connor has written that today interest in Carl Jung is outstripping interest in Sigmund Freud because the sexual revolution, in which Freud was the central figure, has passed. It has been replaced by the search for meaning--Jung's central preoccupation. The latest meaning-made-easy manual is Harold Kushner's When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough, the follow-up to his When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Kushner says he was influenced to write this book after reading the work of Jung. "Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth or power . . .' Kushner writes. "Our souls are hungry for meaning.'
Unfortunately, Kushner's book suffers from the same syndrome as the outwardly successful, inwardly empty lives he is addressing. Instead of coming from a deep need to share his insights, this book feels as if it comes from a deep need for the author to again appear on the bast seller list (a need which has been fulfilled). When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough covers all the right ground: Ecclesiastes to Buber, Jean Piaget to Gail Sheehy. The book is reasonable, rational, unhectoring. But it never conveys any passion about how life should be lived, never goes beyond the superficial.
I suppose one can be grateful Kushner did not write How to Have a Meaningful Life in 30 Days. And one can't expect in this 190 pages all the answers to why we were born. But Kushner seems almost perversely set on not offering inspiration. This book would have been vastly more engaging had it given examples of people who examined their lives, found them wanting and changed them for the better. Kushner rightly believes there is no simple formula for finding meaning. But when it comes time to provide guidance, platitudes are all he offers. Yes, it's worth it to be reminded to give and receive love, to help bring along someone younger, to enjoy sunsets, good meals, the changing seasons--but isn't that why Hallmark cards were invented?
Kushner also takes a high moral tone regarding success, as if success is synonymous with a consuming pursuit of money. Why does he define success so narrowly? Why does success necessarily mean diminution of the soul, a disregard for loved ones? Doesn't striving mightily to master something that engages one's imagination--and being rewarded for it--give meaning to life?
Two last quibbles. In Kushner's world, with few exceptions, males are businessmen (therefore unfulfilled), and women are housewives (therefore unfulfilled). And two, he ends the book by explaining that what makes us human is our need to be good, and that this is a gift from God. As an example of the depth of our desire to be good he writes: "Even Hitler's SS troops needed periodic "sermons' to make sure their instinct for compassion didn't interfere with their work.' It's bad enough when Ronald Reagan delivers speeches on the theme "Nazis were nice guys, too.' But Harold Kushner is a rabbi.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1986|
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