Man’s Search for Meaning

I just finished reading a very profound and poignant piece or writing.  It is Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

A survivor of the holocaust and a leading psychiatrist in logotheraphy, Frankl writes honestly about his experiences at Auschwitz.  He doesn’t try to sugarcoat his sufferings or even exaggerate them.  They are related in a very matter-of-fact way with lots of pockets of wisdom in between about how to get through a difficult ordeal.  None of us now can imagine how it really was for the victims of the Holocaust, no matter how many times we watch Inglorious Basterds.  Even words on paper make it difficult to truly understand all the horrors of the concentration camps.  Often, its hard to read or watch such works without being a little subjective and without getting emotionally involved.  I found that Frankl’s work not only enlightened me but it did so in a way that I could compreend how he got through it without muttering curses under my breath at Hitler.

He writes beautifully (Frankl, not Hitler).  Here are a few quotes that particularly stuck with me:

“What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general, but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment”

“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.” ”  (I particularly like this one because it shows how, even in the reary, dangerous atmosphere of a Nazi concentration camp, the pull of love towards a person or a duty is so strong that it can help you get through it and alleviate your troubles even for a little while.)

“The salvation of man is through an in love”  (Once again, the emphasis on love.  He goes on to describe how having imaginary conversations with his wife, of whm he had no information, helped him get through difficult days.  He states that even if he had known then that she was dead, he would have done this anyway, because the mere idea of a loved one, even if they are not alive, is enough to help you survive.)

Its clear that Frankl places love pretty high in the ladder of importance.  He believes that apart from love, work is also important in helping you get through a difficult time.  For example, Frankl mentally worked on his manuscript while suffering through bouts of typhus in the camp.  It gave him a “why” for living.  Lastly, and most surprisingly, Frankl thinks that apart from work and love, SUFFERING itself provides meaning for existence, because it gives us 2 options. One would be to choose our attitude towards that suffering, or spiritual freedom.  For example, you could either choose to give up on life or you could gather your inner convictions and use them to get through it all.  Second would be to make us see suffering as a task we have to get through, which enables us to get through it proudly.  It sounds a bit confusing but when reading Frankl’s work, it makes complete sense.

Overall, Frankl’s work has a deep message, and I think it can be interpreted in many ways depending on the reader as an individual.  I would definitely recommend it to everyone.