Viktor E. Frankl does not need my endorsement of his book.  Several hundred people give him a virtually unanimous straight-five-stars review on Amazon (which may not be the ultimate criterion for quality, but it is my quick and easy guide to goodness).  And according to Wikipedia, Man's Search For Meaning belongs to "the ten most influential books in the United States," ever.

The question is... how come I never heard of it until now?  Had you?

Oh well, never mind that.  The book is as short as it is good (very).  And, as I just finished it, I will jot down a few of my impressions in the paragraphs below...

What is the meaning of Life?  This is not a trick question.  And trying to get it right is no fuzzy, head-in-the-clouds, hippiefied matter.  It, in fact, is a serious-as-a-heart-attack practical undertaking.  So Frankl assures us.

Your approach to this question, he argues, will determine whether you survive, when the proverbial doo-doo hits the fan...  and it will, because that is what doo-doo does, sooner or later, in light of our inescapable mortality (and best of luck to you Mr. Kurzweil, but I am not holding my breath), and the fact that it (dying) doesn't usually come with a cherry on top.

Here's the deal.  We live in an age when sane people think that the adventures of Octo-mom and Paris Hilton are important... even tragic.  Or that the outcomes of Dancing with the Stars and Biggest Loser are not only worthy of serious consideration, but potential sources of inspiration!  We live in an age of Pavlovian expressions of outrage and "sadness" in response stories of individual soldiers killed in war and babies missing... stories that bother us so much that we even frown while we listen to them on the morning radio, while sipping on our Starbucks.

And we forget that we owe our placid lives to mere accidents.  That we could have come into being in a land or time not so far away from this... a land or time where the color of our skin or the shape of our nose would have "justified" our being herded, rounded-up, and exterminated...

Anyway, I digress talking about us.  My point is that Frankl has been one of these people.  And that he has observed first hand the worst that man has to offer.  He was himself one of the human-livestock selected for slaughter, and he was also a psychotherapist, observing his own people's extermination from the point of view of a "mental health expert".  And when he miraculously survived, he wrote down what he figured out.  And here it is, for us to read and to ponder (if we can manage to turn the TV off for a while).  It is not mind-blowing revelation... but it is solid stuff.

In the concentration camps of the Nazis, some prisoners lost their grip on humanity, and became like starving frightened animals, clawing at each other for survival.  Others - under identical circumstances - became like heroes, and angels, unto their fellow victims... with the hearts of lions even as their bodies crumbled.  This puzzled Frankl, why the difference?

Frankl's suggestion is that the dichotomy stems from whether the prisoner happened to have successfully found meaning in his life, or not.  Paraphrasing Frankl quoting Nietzsche "Man can endure almost any how provided he has found an acceptable why."

What then, Mr. Frankl, are the why's that will help us endure almost anything?  

Aha!  Here he categorically states that he does not have an answer... that it is for you to define, what the meaning of your life is.  This is not a slight of hand avoidance of a tough answer.  It is precisely his point that the meaning of our lives is unique to each of us.  And discovering it is exceptionally crucial, tricky, and personal.

He does at the same time tell us that when we do it, we should undertake to find our own personal meaning in one (or maybe all) of three possible... areas: work, love, or suffering...

Whatever it turns out to be for you, meaning is - for everyone - a transcendent thing: that is, bigger, and longer lasting  than we are.  That is part of the deal. 
Having found your meaning is part and parcel embracing your smallness.  And paradoxically, realizing your own smallness is the only lasting way to defeat your sense of existential insignificance.

You may have a great work you have spent yourself on... or a family to whom your love means much.

And then... you may also have suffering

You don't go in search of suffering.  That would be idiotic.  And Frankl knows suffering!  His surprising (?) discovery was that when suffering traps you (as it sooner or later will) your life will remain meaningful only to the extent that you decide accept the suffering.  If you rail against it you lose. If you bargain away the sharpness of your senses and your intellect in exchange for it... you lose.  An animal can either endure suffering, or flee from it... but only man can accept it and... somehow grow taller from it.

It is not an easy idea to love.  But I think it is worth a shot!

Do you buy it?
11/11/2011 16:16:00

Appreciate the blog. Keep it up.


11/11/2011 20:36:55

Thanks brother. Hope the Navy is treating you well. One day soon, I will build a pinewood derby car with my son, and we'll storm the local tracks. Got that idea from you. Read any good books lately?

10/14/2013 07:12:00

Thanks to your blog, I'm gonna create one now too, thank you.


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