Saturday, July 21, 2007

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl


Man’s Search for Meaning
By Viktor E Frankl

ISBN: 0807014289X

Publishers: Beacon Press

First Published: 1959

Pages: 134

There are two parts in this book, which I found deeply spiritual. In the first part of "Man's Search for Meaning" Viktor E Frankl describes how he survives various Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Searching deep within, he learns how to endure deprivation and life-threatening horror in the midst of the holocaust. He tells us in order to keep going; we need to hold onto core beliefs and values, and thoughts about ourselves in a better future.

The second part of the book speaks about the philosophy of life and the existential theory of psychology, logo therapy that Frankl derived from his experiences. Logotherapy’s basis is man's search for meaning in life and focuses on the future rather than the past. Logotherapy concentrates on responsibility to find meaning and live within the implied doctrine of that meaning. It avoids judgement. Each one of us is capable of immense good and absolute evil and it is ultimately on us to choose which path to follow. Meaning in life is achieved through love and suffering. "At any moment, man must decide for better or worse, what will be the monument of his existence."

Even under tremendous stress, man can uphold to vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind. External forces are not the only basis of a person's behaviour. Those men, who allowed their inner hold on their moral and spiritual selves to collapse, fell under the camp's degenerating influence. Any prisoner, who lost faith in his future, was doomed.

Frankl's message is simple: Life can be terrible. However, we have the ultimate power to decide what we do with our situation. If we think, there is a point to our suffering and if we can envisage our life into the future, that means we are searching for meaning. More we search; nearer we are to finding meaning. Success and riches may come our way but none of those matters. The search has to be everything.

He discovers that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. He understands how a man can achieve fulfilment, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved. Frankl was lucky, and he was aware of it. As he himself said,” The best among us did not return. However, the lucky ones did.”

As with all concentration camp memoirs, this too contains one horror after another. Nevertheless, unlike almost all others, this book is marked with remarkable scenes. “At a very low point in the war, a block warden asks Frankl to talk to the inmates. Frankle reminds them that all they have lost can be accomplished again. He says something, which is both shocking and inspiring. “Human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have meaning. Even hopelessness offers a kind of dignity. If we act well in a crisis, we honour God; we show that, even as we are killed, we maintain our dignity.”

For the question, why read "Man's Search for Meaning" now, my answer is as we live in an age of weak excuses and false explanations, very few people step forward to take responsibility for anything. In this appalling time, this book reminds us, what we do and how we think about it, matters. It tells us, each single life is important. It cannot get much simpler than that.

I strongly recommend this book be read by everyone.