Man's Search for Meaning
by Viktor E. Frankl
“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose ones attitude in any given circumstance.” - Victor Frankl
I first encountered Frankl's book as a reading assignment for a seminar led by Stephen Covey. I will never forget the first time I read it. It was exciting for its lessons and its inspiration. It was and continues to be one of the most inspirational books that I have ever read. That first reading led to subsequent readings which cemented its place in my own personal reading pantheon. Along with the works of Aristotle, Plato, Thoreau and others I have drawn support for my personal philosophy for living. It is an unlikely combination of one part personal memoir and one part psychology. But the two parts complement each other, producing an impressive argument for living your life with freedom through strength of mind and character.
I was impressed with the ability of Frankl to describe his experience in the concentration camps as one in which he was free. That is his mind was free because the guards could not control his thoughts and in that sense he saw himself with more freedom than they had. He concluded from these experiences “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” He goes on to say:
"We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore we had to teach the despairing men, that 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 talk must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and 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." (p 85)
This is a deeply important paragraph with many lessons for Victor and his fellow prisoners as well as his readers. One aspect reminded me of the lessons I learned studying Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics where he also emphasized the importance of right action, right conduct, and taking individual responsibility. In Book Two he discusses the nature of virtue as it is concerned with feelings and actions. For Aristotle it is necessary to have the right feelings at the right times for the right things and for the right purposes. He goes on to discuss the actions of individuals and the nature of virtue but through all of this there is an aim towards the good and as Frankl says "the responsibility to find the right answer to life's problems.
Victor Frankl's personal experience through all the difficulties of immurement and physical deprivation make his story all the more powerful. He subsequently developed logotherapy (considered the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy" after Freud's psychoanalysis and Adler's individual psychology) which suggests an approach to life that is both positive and life-enhancing. I would recommend this book to all who are looking for guidance in finding direction in life.
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