REACH & CLP Technology & patents ABC Play Talk ABOUT
EcoMole Blog
2 April 2015
Viktor E. Frankl: Man's Search for Meaning
Miloslav NicView Miloslav Nic's profile on LinkedIn

In my yesterday's post, EcoMole reader's corner, I have published a list of books which started with a masterpiece from Viktor Frankl and I have decided to start with this book irregular series of books' recommendations as well.

Viktor Frankl is the founder of logotherapy, a psychotherapeutic method based on the belief that "striving to find a meaning in one's life is the primary and most powerful force in humans". I do not consider myself to be in any need for a psychiatrist, although I am not sure that my students share this opinion :). But I read his scientific publications and decided to act on many recommendations and purchased his famous book.

The book's story is a very powerful one. "Man's Search for Meaning" narrates just a short fragment from 92 years of Frankl's prolific life, but a fragment he had only 1:28 chance to survive. He was Number 119104, a Jew digging and laying tracks for railway lines in Nazi concentration camps.

His descriptions of camps' conditions betray a scientific mind and his objective approach results in a very powerful prose:

  • "Those who have never seen anything similar cannot possibly imagine the dance of joy performed in the carriage by the prisoners when they saw that our transport was not crossing the bridge and was instead heading only for Dachau."

Everybody should listen to his feelings about human dignity:

  • "a blow which does not even find its mark can, under certain circumstances, hurt more than one that finds its mark."
  • "The most painful part of beatings is the insult which they imply."

and to his gospel of hope:

  • "Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature."

The book contains a strove of other deep ideas to ponder about, so there is just a short and rather haphazard selection:

  • "Every age has its own collective neurosis, and every age needs its own psychotherapy to cope with it. The existential vacuum which is the mass neurosis of the present time can be described as a private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as the contention that being has no meaning."
  • "To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic."
  • "Freedom, however, is 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 whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast."
  • "An incurably psychotic individual may lose his usefulness but yet retain the dignity of a human being. This is my psychiatric credo."
  • "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."
  • "As for the concept of collective guilt, I personally think that it is totally unjustified to hold one person responsible for the behavior of another person or a collective of persons. "

I will finish with a quotation I have problems to read aloud:

  • "that same day someone had a twenty-fourth birthday. That someone lay in another part of the Auschwitz camp, possibly only a few hundred or a thousand yards away, and yet completely out of reach. That someone was my wife."

Please, read the book and remember its last words:

  • "Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake."