Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Have you ever had a really large portion of food yet found it unsatisfying compared to a smaller meal of a different variety? If you’ll forgive the lame analogy, reading this book was exactly like consuming a rich, small portion of food which provided greater satisfaction than many larger ones.
Books are written to spread knowledge and wisdom which is often the result of personal experience. Frankl seems to have had as much life experience to learn from than most of us will hopefully ever have in our lives, ad it absolutely shows. It almost seems that the more severe ones situation, the more benefit one can gain from it, provided of course, our attitude towards it. Similar to how increasingly crushing an orange harder will only reveal its juices more.
Interestingly enough, the introduction to this book mentioned in no uncertain terms that the book itself contained many profound passages and sentences for which even one would cause an individual to keep it on their bookshelf for many years to come. I believed this, especially considering the incredible amount of positive reviews I read beforehand, yet even still I vastly underestimated the number of passages I ended up highlighting and pause reading to reflect on!
I can only imagine the horrors Frankl went through, but his findings were life changing for us all. My main takeaway from this was the fact that even if we end up in a seemingly hopeless situation which we cannot change at all, we can still choose our attitude towards it and choose to suffer, to endure, to bear it heroically. We can give our situations a meaning by understanding that as long as one retains an ounce of sanity, you have the freedom to choose how to deal with your situation. By acting our way with dignity, nobility and honour, we weave into our unalterable past a thread that cannot be altered or tampered with. Your actions in the present will always be a part of your past, so act nobly to make a history which cannot be taken from you.
Frankl mentions that happiness is something which is often pursued. this is incorrect, it is an unobtainable end. In fact, he mentions, happiness must ensue. This means that happiness is simply a byproduct which appears when we bring meaning into our lives, how else can we explain the level of peace some men felt when they transcended themselves in the midst of the Concentration Camps by bearing their suffering and even sacrificing what little they had for others?
In these same Camps, Frankl saw some devolve into sadistic oppressors (though prisoners themselves), indifferent nihilists or men who were able to transcend their situation and therefore their own selves. This diverse range of responses to a confined, enslaved life showcases the different choices we as human beings can take in response to an unchangeable situation.
What was even more interesting was the fact that Frankl was able to develop and flesh out his method of psychotherapy which he calls Logotherapy. This is a type of therapy which aims to make a patient realise that their life has a meaning. Once they understand this, they will be well equipped to accept and to strive against the difficulties they face in life. This was an easy sell when you put into context of what Frankl experienced from his life.
Frankl also introduced the interesting idea that Freedom alone can be very destructive to a human being. Freedom should be married and balanced with the idea of Responsibility. Having one without the other is destructive, and as he so eloquently puts it:
“…Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”
I have read books of many hundreds of pages which said much less than this masterpiece. I sincerely believe that this book is a must read for anyone who wishes to understand what they are capable of.
I will finish Frankl’s ending statement from the book which perfectly encapsulates why we should strive to know ourselves and what we have the possibility to do, and the depths we may sink to if we dont embody that level of responsibility.
“Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.”