Sunday, August 09, 2015

61:7 First Impression: Man's Search for Meaning (Book I read - part 2)

Man’s Search for Meaning 
by Viktor E. Frankl

This is a vital book.

It’s about a doctor who underwent the concentration camp experience and, based on his experience, devised the theory and practice of logotherapy. Logotherapy is the treatment of a condition or a disorder by linking it to a person’s will to find meaning in his or her life. It is quite a major school of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. The premise, put simply, is in a quote cited in the book, “A man with a strong enough why can put up with any kind of how.” (It’s not the exact quote but close enough.) The book, towards the end, has some tools to understand and apply logotherapy to one’s life. 

My interest in this book, however, was more at a small, individual level – as in, how do you butter bread or pour tea after you’ve come out from a concentration camp? You have lost everything - all your loved ones, your life’s work; you have undergone pain, you got through day after day clawing at any shred of kindness you can find (some prisoners would actually give one of their shoes to someone who’d lost a toe to frost-bite, even though they knew that they would suffer the same fate). These people who've gone through so much - if they survived the camp and were freed, they’d commit suicide. 

From what I understand, as long as they were in the concentration camp, they had a will to live. They had a purpose – to get away from the horror, to reunite with their loved ones, and to return to the life they had. Once they got free, maybe they didn’t have their loved ones anymore, they didn’t have the goal to get away from the camp, and they had the burden of the traumatic memories to carry for the rest of their lives. The clincher, is that piece– Considering that seems endless, why bother to continue living? 

This is where Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy comes in. The discipline is about finding out what goal is meaningful, as opposed to joyous. This was a huge revelation for me. Many times we get possessive about pain because it gives us a reason to continue living – because the maybe the goal of getting over the pain is the goal we move towards. If we happen to accomplish that, then what’s left?

As with books about the concentration camp or any such horror in history, I’m always intrigued with the human-scale bigness of the people who underwent that. There is a part of the book when Viktor is lying down at night in a cell that’s choked with a hundred men. He’s thinking about his wife. Somewhere in the distance, he hears a violin playing. It was his wife’s birthday that night.

Many times in the book he writes about how the memory of his wife and his love for her kept him going.

It’s a very good book, especially for the times when we forget just how much muscle love and meaning can have.

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