Man’s search for meaning – Viktor E Frankl.
A few months ago, I finished reading “Man’s search for meaning” for the second time.
It’s not another “holocaust book”, but a deep, broad observation of suffering, the meaning of suffering and the meaning of a person’s life as an individual.
In the book, while presenting his personal story, Frankl presents us with his theory of Logotherapy. Logos – meaning.
Frankl’s approach, was in it’s essence, an approach that seeks to take care of the existential vacuum one experiences in his life, that is manifested in many different forms (including mental illnesses), through the meaning of life, the meaning of being here, the meaning of Existing.
It does not mean the meaning of human existence as a whole, but rather
the meaning of each individual life.
For example – my individual existential meaning is to help people, and make their life better. Coaching, if you’d like to call it that.
Another individual’s existential meaning may be the love he feels for his wife, etc.
I find this approach fascinating, because it perceives humans as sentient beings,
a whole organism, that is worth more than the sum of it’s parts.
A human isn’t just his system of beliefs, psychological conditioning, habits or his biological organs, but rather much more than that. A human is a spiritual being (not necessarily in the religious context, but rather in the broader meaning of the term).
This concept is manifested quite clearly in Frankl’s personal story.
Especially within this fierce quote that seals his book: “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”.
Throughout his book, we come upon extremely genuine, humane stories.
The suffering that the jewish people (and many other nations persecuted in Europe) went through during the holocaust is inconceivable. And in spite of that, there were more than a few regular individuals like you and me, that decided to remain human.
They have kept the one freedom that was left to them – the freedom to choose how to deal with every given situation, every given scenario, no matter how dire or horrible it may be. Even in the most horrific conditions, human beings are able to choose: Are they going to Endure their suffering with courage and valor, and by doing that, give their suffering meaning; Or give up, and lose the potential meaning their suffering encapsulates – Which may be the worst thing of all, suffering without meaning.
Frankl gave a fine example of this concept – An elderly doctor came to meet him, claiming his life are not worth living since his wife passed away.
Frankl presented him with an opposite scenario – what if this man’s wife was the one to remain alive? What would happen then? The doctor promptly replied that his wife would probably be in a great deal of pain (for losing him).
If so, replied Frankl, This elderly doctor prevented his wife from experiencing a great deal of pain. Now, the elderly doctor’s pain has received meaning – the meaning of sacrifice. He’s suffering, so his wife won’t suffer in his stead.
Occasionally, we may feel that suffering is the only thing in our life that is capable of receiving any kind of meaning.
People with incurable disease may choose to accept their fate with courage and valor, and by doing that, find meaning to their suffering – A worthy challenge that would lead to a worthy, courageous death.
In that context, Frankl states (In my opinion, Justly), that the point of human desire isn’t to experience pleasure or avoid pain. But rather, find meaning in his life, meaning to his life, as an individual. Therefore, one may be willing to suffer, as long as there is meaning for his/her suffering.
It appears that those who have survived the horrors of the holocaust, are those same individuals that have succeeded in finding meaning to their life, in their suffering and in the future. Frankl was supposed to finish his life’s work (who’s manuscript he had to abandon to Nazi hands). Another individual felt compelled to live for his children, so they could have a father. Another individual may feel that he’s living for that moment when he could reunite with his wife.
As Nietzsche said: “He who has a ‘why’ to live for, can bear almost any ‘how’ ” .