Man’s search for meaning (1946)

The story

‘When we spoke about attempts to give a man in camp mental courage, we said that he had to be shown something to look forward to in the future, He had to be reminded that life still waited for him, that a human being waited for his return. But after liberation? There were some men who found that no one awaited them. Woe to him who found that the person whose memory alone had given him courage in the cam did not exist any more! Woe to him who, when the day of his dreams finally came, found it so different from all he had longed for! Perhaps he boarded a trolley, travelled out to home which he had seen for years in his mind, and only in his mind, and pressed the bell, just as he longed to do in thousends of dreams, only to find that the person who should open the door was not there and would never be there again.’ [74-75]

Many books you read in your life will just go into the backroom of your memory, but a few extremely rare literary works will vividly stay with you till the end of your days; Man’s Search for Meaning is one of those very rare books. If you truly absorb this book, it will never let you go. It is an autobiographical book published by Jewish psychologist from Vienna Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997), in which he recounts his lived experiences during the Shoah, commonly known as the Holocaust. It is not about the great horrors that transpired during this dark chapter of human history, but about a man who is searching for meaning and a way to survive while his entire world collapses around him. Throughout this journey, he witnessed the varied attitudes, choices, and mindsets of people who survived the Second World War (1939-1945) and those who did not. As a result, the novel is a real tragedy with a positive moral and spiritual message. One of the central things this book tries to convey to the reader is ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’

After the part about Frankls experiences the books continues to explain his brainchild, Logotherapy, which is a therapeutic method that helps individuals find personal meaning in their lives. This form of psychotherapy focuses on the future and our ability to withstand hardship and pain in the quest of meaning. This second part is harder to read than the first part, and this is definitely true if you are not a psychologist or psychotherapist. This theory was influenced by the experiences Frankl underwent during the Holocaust.

Perhaps the most wonderful aspect about Viktor E. Frankl is that he felt no resentment for what had occurred. He claims that he cannot hate individuals he has never met, and hence refuses to collectively blame groups of people for what happened during the Holocaust. This he did, for example, in a speech on March 10, 1988, in which he states the following:

‘Guilt can in any case only be personal guilt — the guilt for something I myself have done — or may have failed to do! But I cannot be guilty of something that other people have done, even if it is my parents or grandparents. And to try to persuade today’s Austrians between the ages of nought and fifty of a sort of ‘retroactive collective guilt’, I consider to be a crime and an insanity — or, to put it in a psychiatrist’s terms, it would be crime, were it not a case of insanity. And a return to so-called ‘kin liability’ of the Nazi’s! [March 10, 1988 Memorial speech to mark the 50th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion, Rathausplatz Vienna]

Yay or Nay

The book has a tremendous amount of power. The main moral lesson I took away from Frankl’s narrative was that if one has a reason for living, he can tolerate nearly anything. I know what it’s like to lose people since my father died when I was twelve, and I’ve also faced bullying and exclusion, so I know what it’s like to suffer, but I survived because I trusted in the future. And, while my purpose for life man seem trivial to some, it means a great lot to me. For the time being, my major goal is to learn as much as I can about history, civilisations, literature, and Asia. I also want to visit as many historical sites as possible, including the Gizeh Pyramids, Machu Pichu, Cuzco, Timbuktu, Angkor Wat, Borobodur, Kurama-dera temple, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and many others.

This book might be beneficial for identifying what is truly essential in life as well as learning more about Holocaust experiences. The book is beautifully written, especially the first part. The author takes the reader on a trip through his personal experiences. He gives you heartbreaking stories and demonstrates how, if one has a reason to live, even the terrible may be bearable. So, while this is not a book for the faint of heart, I would suggest it to anybody.

Man’s search for Meaning (1946)

Written by Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997)). Introduction by Martin Gilbert (1936-2015)

145 pages. Rider Books

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