Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Existential Confidence

By Jean Mavrelis - 10.15.2010

I heard a new term on Charlie Rose. 

He was interviewing an Israeli journalist named David Grossman about his new book, To The End of the Land.

Grossman, who lost his son, Uri, in the last hours of the 2006 Israeli conflict in Lebanon, said he wrote the book to help restore his own existential confidence, along with the existential confidence of Israel.

It blew me away.

I always thought of existentialists as profoundly bitter and disillusioned folks who felt there was no meaning to life.

What Grossman was talking about was different – it was the optimism that would come from expecting to live your life in peace without threat of violence and despair looming around every corner.


Post Traumatic Stress victims know what that means.

Those of us who have lost children or suffered other profound loss know it.

Existential confidence – the confidence that life still has meaning and hope and even promise.

I’m still blown away by the power of that interview.  Grossman is a wounded, bereaved father, who looks at life and tries to create meaning through the stories of real families and relationships.

I can’t wait to read it.

If any of you have thoughts on the concept of “existential confidence”, I’d love to hear them.

2 Responses so far

What Existential confidence means to me is triumphing over adversity. Losing a child is a unique form of adversity and I cannot imagine this type of loss.

I imagine other types of adversity become motivation for some to break through the sense of despair, and discouragement. And being self-confident goes a long way into triumphing over adversity.

Hi Jean,
I have finally come across one of your blogs that I feel I can really add something to the dialogue! I, too, am blown away by the term “existential confidence,” and what it means.

I felt like I could respond for two reasons. One reason is that my Master’s program was very much influenced by Existential philosophy – in fact, my degree is in Existential Phenomenological Psychology.” I am aware of existentialism’s bad reputation – which I understood as being a little too focused on death. However, what I came to understand about existentialism is that it is the only philosophy that is willing to really delve into the questions: “What does it mean to BE?” “What does it mean to NOT BE?”

The last question is the one that I think most people would prefer not to think about.

But those of us who have suffered or been confronted by profound loss, I think, are able to appreciate the gift that is there if you are willing to move into that pain.

I think that integration of the deepest knowledge or wisdom – which I could also be referred to as “universal truths” – requires the breakdown of the existing structure (or psyche) so that a more complex and integrated structure (or psyche) can be constructed. I think that humans are so adverse to pain or suffering, it takes something like a profound loss to force one into that process. I know that I would not have willingly chosen to go through the losses in my life, yet I know those losses were a critical element in my growth and development.

I think the power of existential confidence is something that warrants much greater understanding. I think the ability to believe that life holds meaning, hope and promise when in the midst of unspeakable pain or horror or evil is one of the few things about human kind that has allowed us to evolve.

Thank you for putting this amazing concept out into the conversation. I am going to be thinking about existential confidence for quite a while!

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