Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl... some thoughts about it

This is a brilliant book. It is written in a calm, gentle, yet terribly honest way. I have read other books about concentration camps, specifically, Holocaust concentration camps and the Soviet's Gulag. There is much bitterness and pain in books on such subjects.

This book, Man's Search for Meaning, is different. Viktor E. Frankl, for those of you who do not know, was a psychologist who survived the Nazi's death camps. And his words about his experiences, while still painful, are not bitter, but hopeful.

His insights on pain and suffering are worth listening to, for Auschwitz and the other camps he lived in made him very well acquainted with pain and suffering. 

One powerful idea of the book is that someone who has a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW, a point he repeats again and again. When someone has found a meaning to attach their life to, then the pain and suffering that must inevitably accompany that life is given meaning also. 

Another great idea from this book is that we have a choice in how we face our suffering. Here are a few excerpts from the book which I feel like sharing with you. 

"Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no more than a product of many conditional and environmental factors - be they of of a biological, psychological or sociological nature? Is man but an accidental product of these? Most important, do the prisoner's reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings? Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything may be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way...

"... Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him - mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.

"The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity - even under the most difficult circumstances - to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified, and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him...


There are three important points here, at least, that I can see.

Important point number one: We will suffer.

Important point number two: We have a choice in how we greet our sufferings.

Important point number three: We give our suffering meaning by the choices we make.

I, lately, have been seeking to make sense of suffering. Does this book have all the answers I need? Not all, or I would stop looking. But it has some of the answers I need. Enough to help me be able to look at my own pain... and sometimes, see it as having meaning.

I highly recommend Man's Search for Meaning.

What do you think?

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