Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Man's Search for Meaning

I finally took the time to read Viktor Frankl's best-selling book Man's Search for Meaning. The afterword contains a portion of the wisdom that Frankl obtained through his suffering in four different Nazi concentration camps: "The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs."

Many others have written eloquently about the Shoah, including ElieWiesel, Primo Levi, Corrie ten Boom and Anne Frank.  Frankl's book is distinguished by its emphasis on the sources of strength for survival and the theory of logotherapy.  

Viktor E. Frankl
In the foreward to Man's Search for Meaning, Harold S. Kushner describes what he considers to be Frankl's most enduring insight: "Forces beyond your conrol can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.  You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you."  In short, that which a human being has most control over is his or her own attitude.

Frankl frequently quotes Nietszche throughout his book, but there are more than a few noteworthy original passages:

  • "It is easy for the outsider to get the wrong conception of camp life, a conception mingled with sentiment and pity.  Little does he know of the hard fight for existence which raged among the prisoners.  This was an unrelenting struggle for daily bread and for life itself, for one's own sake or for that of a good friend."
  • "The best of us did not return."
  •  "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior."
  • "At such a moment it is not the physical pain which hurts the most (and this applies to adults as much as to punished children); it is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all."
  • "A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.  The truth- that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.  Then I grasped the meaning of the secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love."
  • "I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying.  In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom.  I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious 'Yes' in answer to my question of the existence of ultimate purpose."
  • "I mentioned earlier how everything that was not connected with the immediate task of keeping oneself and one's closest friends alive lost its value."
  • "(The consciousness of one's inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life.  But how many free men, let alone prisoners, possess it?)"
  • "The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action.  There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability supressed.  Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress... everything can be taken from 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."
  • "We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us."
  • "Only slowly could these men be guided back to the commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them."
  • "The more one forgets himself- by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love- the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.  What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it.  In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence."
  • "Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is.  After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips."  
  • "I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsability on the West Coast."
  • "The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs."

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