Saturday, December 20, 2008

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is one of those classics I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I started it ages ago but remembered little to nothing of what I had read. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, spent three years in Auschwitz and shares his experience to contextualize his psychological theories. When writing about his experiences before, during, and after WWII, Frankl maintains a detachment that makes the horrors he describes no less horrifying than a more passionate expression would be. As he describes how his love for his wife was the focus of his hope for survival, he tells the reader that his wife had already been murdered in the gas chambers. The first two thirds tell his harrowing story and the final sections describe his psychological theory of logotherapy. Quoting Nietzche (He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how) and the Bible (Ps 56:8, et al), Frankl explains that humanity needs a reason for being. Without a purpose, each person is lost. Through his experience in the concentration camp, he came to see first hand the despair that would result in death. The loss of hope, above all other losses, was the one thing that assured doom. A man (or woman or child) who had lost a home, all possessions, and family would stand if there was a reason to hope.
This is not a book to be read lightly. Rather, it is one that provokes some thinking and awareness. I think that on some level I was looking for something else between the pages. Nevertheless, I was not disappointed by what I discovered. Like searching for one treasure and finding another, the lessons are still valuable and informative.
"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."

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