Just finished reading an inspiring book "Man's search for meaning" by Viktor Frankl
Viktor E. Frankl was a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the Univ of Vienna Medical School. He spent three years in concentration camps during WWII. This book based on his experiences and the perspectives he developed as result has become a classic translated into 26 languages selling more than 12 million copies across the world.
Here are a few notable pickings from the book but that should whet your appetite to go and read it all (it is a slim book – 154 pages).
“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How” – Nietzsche.
Life is not a quest for pleasure as Freud believed or a quest for power as Adler taught but a quest for meaning.
…The majority of prisoners suffered from a kind of inferiority complex. 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?
A human being is finite and his freedom is restricted. It is not freedom from conditions but it is freedom to take a stand towards the conditions.
Man does not simply exist but always decides what his next experience will be, what he will become the next moment. One of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions (biological, psychological or sociological), to grow beyond them. Man is capable of changing the world for better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.
Freedom is however not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon who positive aspect is responsibility. Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. I recommend a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast to supplement the Statue of Liberty on the East.
An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art and nature. But there is purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.
Forces beyond your control 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.
It did not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. 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. These tasks and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. They form man’s destiny, which is unique and different for each individual.
Tragic optimism – optimism in the face of the tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for
i) Turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment
ii) Deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better
iii) Deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action
Three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life:
The first is by creating a work or by doing a deed.
The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words meaning can be found not only in work but also in love.
The third: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.
Do not aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.
Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.
Just as life remains potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable, so too does the value of each and every person stay with him or her, and it does so because it is based on the values that he or she has realized in the past, and it is not contingent on the usefulness that he or she may or may not retain in the present.
More specifically this usefulness is usually defined in terms of functioning for the benefit of society. But today’s society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people who are successful and happy and in particular, it adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise, and in so doing blurs the decisive difference between being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness.
The world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.
So let us be alert – alert in a twofold sense:
Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.
And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.
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.