Man's Search for Meaning
book by Viktor Frankl, chronicling his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and describing his psychotherapeutic method, which involved identifying a purpose in life to feel positive about, and then immersively imagining that outcome. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man%27s_Search_for_Meaning ISBN:080701429X
Didn't do much for me
- sure, you feel like a schmuck for complaining, as you read about concentration camps again
- but self-transcendence over unavoidable suffering gives your life meaning? I'm not sure..... certainly more meaning than someone who becomes inhuman because of suffering. Maybe I'm just biased by my First-World Problem goggles....
- and his willingness to use people's religion to manipulate them is distracting
Terrible as it was, his experience in Auschwitz reinforced what was already one of his key ideas: Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning
Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times.
Frankl’s most enduring insight, one that I have called on often in my own life and in countless counseling situations: Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation
Harold S. Kushner is rabbi emeritus at Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts, and the author of several best-selling books, including When Bad Things Happen to Good People
I: Experiences in a Concentration Camp
It is the inside story of a concentration camp, told by one of its survivors.
the multitude of small torments
This story is not about the suffering and death of great heroes and martyrs, nor is it about the prominent Capos—prisoners who acted as trustees, having special privileges—or well-known prisoners. Thus it is not so much concerned with the sufferings of the mighty, but with the sacrifices, the crucifixion and the deaths of the great army of unknown and unrecorded victims
While these ordinary prisoners had little or nothing to eat, the Capos were never hungry; in fact many of the Capos fared better in the camp than they had in their entire lives
These Capos, of course, were chosen only from those prisoners whose characters promised to make them suitable for such procedures, and if they did not comply with what was expected of them, they were immediately demoted
Let us take the case of a transport which was officially announced to transfer a certain number of prisoners to another camp; but it was a fairly safe guess that its final destination would be the gas chambers
The selection process was the signal for a free fight among all the prisoners, or of group against group. All that mattered was that one’s own name and that of one’s friend were crossed off the list of victims
apart from the selection of Capos which was undertaken by the SS, there was a sort of self-selecting process going on the whole time among all of the prisoners. On the average, only those prisoners could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp, had lost all scruples in their fight for existence; they were prepared to use every means, honest and otherwise, even brutal force, theft, and betrayal of their friends, in order to save themselves
the best of us did not return
three phases of the inmate’s mental reactions to camp life become apparent: the period following his admission; the period when he is well entrenched in camp routine; and the period following his release and liberation.
The symptom that characterizes the first phase is shock
Next we were herded into another room to be shaved: not only our heads were shorn, but not a hair was left on our entire bodies. Then on to the showers, where we lined up again
While we were waiting for the shower, our nakedness was brought home to us: we really had nothing now except our bare bodies—even minus hair; all we possessed, literally, was our naked existence. What else remained for us as a material link with our former lives?
Thus the illusions some of us still held were destroyed one by one, and then, quite unexpectedly, most of us were overcome by a grim sense of humor. We knew that we had nothing to lose except our so ridiculously naked lives
Apart from that strange kind of humor, another sensation seized us: curiosity
Cold curiosity predominated even in Auschwitz, somehow detaching the mind from its surroundings, which came to be regarded with a kind of objectivity
In the next few days our curiosity evolved into surprise; surprise that we did not catch cold.
There were many similar surprises in store for new arrivals. The medical men among us learned first of all: “Textbooks tell lies!” Somewhere it is said that man cannot exist without sleep for more than a stated number of hours. Quite wrong!
The thought of suicide was entertained by nearly everyone
From personal convictions which will be mentioned later, I made myself a firm promise, on my first evening in camp, that I would not “run into the wire.” This was a phrase used in camp to describe the most popular method of suicide—touching the electrically charged barbed-wire fence
Even the gas chambers lost their horrors for him after the first few days—after all, they spared him the act of committing suicide.
But one thing I beg of you”; he continued, “shave daily, if at all possible, even if you have to use a piece of glass to do it … even if you have to give your last piece of bread for it. You will look younger and the scraping will make your cheeks look ruddier. If you want to stay alive, there is only one way: look fit for work
The prisoner passed from the first to the second phase; the phase of relative apathy, in which he achieved a kind of emotional death
If, as usually happened, some of the excrement splashed into his face during its transport over bumpy fields, any sign of disgust by the prisoner or any attempt to wipe off the filth would only be punished with a blow from a Capo. And thus the mortification of normal reactions was hastened.
Disgust, horror and pity are emotions that our spectator could not really feel any more
Beatings occurred on the slightest provocation, sometimes for no reason at all
The most painful part of beatings is the insult which they imply
Several of my colleagues in camp who were trained in psychoanalysis often spoke of a “regression” in the camp inmate—a retreat to a more primitive form of mental life. His wishes and desires became obvious in his dreams
In calories, this diet was absolutely inadequate
When the last layers of subcutaneous fat had vanished, and we looked like skeletons disguised with skin and rags, we could watch our bodies beginning to devour themselves. The organism digested its own protein, and the muscles disappeared. Then the body had no powers of resistance left
Undernourishment, besides being the cause of the general preoccupation with food, probably also explains the fact that the sexual urge was generally absent
The religious interest of the prisoners, as far and as soon as it developed, was the most sincere imaginable
Once I witnessed something I had never seen, even in my normal life, although it lay somewhat near my own professional interests: a spiritualistic seance
In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. 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
my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.
This intensification of inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation and spiritual poverty of his existence, by letting him escape into the past. When given free rein, his imagination played with past events, often not important ones, but minor happenings and trifling things
As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before
we beheld the mountains of Salzburg with their summits glowing in the sunset
A kind of cabaret was improvised from time to time
one could find a sense of humor there as well
We were grateful for the smallest of mercies. We were glad when there was time to delouse before going to bed
A man’s character became involved to the point that he was caught in a mental turmoil which threatened all the values he held and threw them into doubt.
he lost the feeling of being an individual, a being with a mind, with inner freedom and personal value. He thought of himself then as only a part of an enormous mass of people; his existence descended to the level of animal life.
Cannibalism had broken out. I had left just in time
The camp inmate was frightened of making decisions and of taking any sort of initiative whatsoever
This escape from commitment was most apparent when a prisoner had to make the decision for or against an escape attempt
The unpleasant feeling that had gripped me as soon as I had told my friend I would escape with him became more intense. Suddenly I decided to take fate into my own hands for once. I ran out of the hut and told my friend that I could not go with him
Apart from its role as a defensive mechanism, the prisoners’ apathy was also the result of other factors. Hunger and lack of sleep contributed to it (as they do in normal life, also) and to the general irritability which was another characteristic of the prisoners’ mental state
Besides these physical causes, there were mental ones, in the form of certain complexes. The majority of prisoners suffered from a kind of inferiority complex. We all had once been or had fancied ourselves to be “somebody.” Now we were treated like complete nonentities
I may give the impression that the human being is completely and unavoidably influenced by his surroundings.
But what about human liberty? Is there no spiritual freedom in regard to behavior and reaction to any given surroundings?
We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle. The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action
Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.
An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature. But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him. But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering
Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded
Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering
Psychological observations of the prisoners have shown that only the men who allowed their inner hold on their moral and spiritual selves to subside eventually fell victim to the camp’s degenerating influences. The question now arises, what could, or should, have constituted this “inner hold”?
A well-known research psychologist has pointed out that life in a concentration camp could be called a “provisional existence.” We can add to this by defining it as a “provisional existence of unknown limit.”
A man who could not see the end of his “provisional existence” was not able to aim at an ultimate goal in life. He ceased living for the future, in contrast to a man in normal life
One of the prisoners, who on his arrival marched with a long column of new inmates from the station to the camp, told me later that he had felt as though he were marching at his own funeral. His life had seemed to him absolutely without future
In a different connection, we have already spoken of the tendency there was to look into the past, to help make the present, with all its horrors, less real. But in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist
Instead of taking the camp’s difficulties as a test of their inner strength, they did not take their life seriously and despised it as something of no consequence
The prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.
The ultimate cause of my friend’s death was that the expected liberation did not come and he was severely disappointed. This suddenly lowered his body’s resistance against the latent typhus infection.
any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal
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.
think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly.
in right action and in right conduct
Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way
there is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand.
Long ago we had passed the stage of asking what was the meaning of life, a naïve query which understands life as the attaining of some aim through the active creation of something of value. For us, the meaning of life embraced the wider cycles of life and death, of suffering and of dying.
Once the meaning of suffering had been revealed to us, we refused to minimize or alleviate the camp’s tortures by ignoring them or harboring false illusions and entertaining artificial optimism. Suffering had become a task on which we did not want to turn our backs. We had realized its hidden opportunities for achievement
individual psychotherapeutic attempts were often a kind of “lifesaving procedure.” These efforts were usually concerned with the prevention of suicides.
In both cases it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them (Wasn't this false hope?)
The opportunities for collective psychotherapy were naturally limited in camp. The right example was more effective than words could ever be. A senior block warden who did not side with the authorities
Whoever was still alive had reason for hope
no man knew what the future would bring, much less the next hour
the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning
What can you tell us about the psychological make-up of the camp guards?
First, among the guards there were some sadists, sadists in the purest clinical sense. Second, these sadists were always selected when a really severe detachment of guards was needed.*
Third, the feelings of the majority of the guards had been dulled by the number of years in which, in ever-increasing doses, they had witnessed the brutal methods of the camp
Fourth, it must be stated that even among the guards there were some who took pity on us
But the senior camp warden, a prisoner himself, was harder than any of the SS guards
It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups
From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two—the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society
And now to the last chapter in the psychology of a concentration camp—the psychology of the prisoner who has been released
the morning when the white flag was hoisted above the camp gates after days of high tension. This state of inner suspense was followed by total relaxation. But it would be quite wrong to think that we went mad with joy. What, then, did happen?
Timidly we looked around and glanced at each other questioningly. Then we ventured a few steps out of camp
We had literally lost the ability to feel pleased and had to relearn it slowly.
Psychologically, what was happening to the liberated prisoners could be called “depersonalization.” Everything appeared unreal, unlikely, as in a dream
The body has fewer inhibitions than the mind. It made good use of the new freedom from the first moment on. It began to eat ravenously
I stopped, looked around, and up to the sky—and then I went down on my knees. At that moment there was very little I knew of myself or of the world—I had but one sentence in mind—always the same: “I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space.” How long I knelt there and repeated this sentence memory can no longer recall. But I know that on that day, in that hour, my new life started.*
It would be an error to think that a liberated prisoner was not in need of spiritual care any more
During this psychological phase one observed that people with natures of a more primitive kind could not escape the influences of the brutality which had surrounded them in camp life. Now, being free, they thought they could use their freedom licentiously and ruthlessly. The only thing that had changed for them was that they were now the oppressors instead of the oppressed
Only slowly could these men be guided back to the commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them
there were two other fundamental experiences which threatened to damage the character of the liberated prisoner: bitterness and disillusionment when he returned to his former life.
Bitterness was caused by a number of things he came up against in his former home town. When, on his return, a man found that in many places he was met only with a shrug of the shoulders
The experience of disillusionment is different. Here it was not one’s fellow man (whose superficiality and lack of feeling was so disgusting that one finally felt like creeping into a hole and neither hearing nor seeing human beings any more) but fate itself which seemed so cruel
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 camp did not exist any more!
The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more—except his God.
II: Logotherapy in a Nutshell
READERS OF MY SHORT AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL STORY usually ask for a fuller and more direct explanation of my therapeutic doctrine. Accordingly I added a brief section on logotherapy to the original edition of From Death-Camp to Existentialism. But that was not enough, and I have been besieged by requests for a more extended treatment. Therefore in the present edition I have completely rewritten and considerably expanded my account.
in logotherapy the patient may remain sitting erect but he must hear things which sometimes are very disagreeable to hear
less retrospective and less introspective. Logotherapy focuses rather on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future
At the same time, logotherapy defocuses all the vicious-circle formations and feedback mechanisms which play such a great role in the development of neuroses. Thus, the typical self-centeredness of the neurotic is broken up instead of being continually fostered and reinforced
Logos is a Greek word which denotes “meaning.”
According to logotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.
That is why I speak of a will to meaning in contrast to the pleasure principle (or, as we could also term it, the will to pleasure) on which Freudian psychoanalysis is centered, as well as in contrast to the will to power on which Adlerian psychology, using the term “striving for superiority,” is focused
The Will to Meaning
Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning
Of course, there may be some cases in which an individual’s concern with values is really a camouflage of hidden inner conflicts; but, if so, they represent the exceptions from the rule rather than the rule itself. In these cases we have actually to deal with pseudovalues, and as such they have to be unmasked
The term “existential” may be used in three ways: to refer to (1) existence itself, i.e., the specifically human mode of being; (2) the meaning of existence; and (3) the striving to find a concrete meaning in personal existence, that is to say, the will to meaning.
Existential frustration can also result in neuroses
Noögenic neuroses do not emerge from conflicts between drives and instincts but rather from existential problems. Among such problems, the frustration of the will to meaning plays a large role.
Not every conflict is necessarily neurotic; some amount of conflict is normal and healthy
Logotherapy regards its assignment as that of assisting the patient to find meaning in his life
man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health.
mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become
What man needs is not homeostasis but what I call “noö-dynamics,” i.e., the existential dynamics in a polar field of tension where one pole is represented by a meaning that is to be fulfilled and the other pole by the man who has to fulfill it
If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load which is laid upon it, for thereby the parts are joined more firmly together. (Anti-fragile)
The Existential Vacuum
The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the twentieth century.
At the beginning of human history, man lost some of the basic animal instincts
In addition to this, however, man has suffered another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing
Now we can understand Schopenhauer when he said that mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom
progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours
This is also true of the crises of pensioners and aging people.
Sometimes the frustrated will to meaning is vicariously compensated for by a will to power, including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. In other cases, the place of frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure.
Magda B. Arnold is justified: “Every therapy must in some way, no matter how restricted, also be logotherapy
Let us now consider what we can do if a patient asks what the meaning of his life is.
The Meaning of Life
the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour
comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?”
Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!” It seems to me that there is nothing which would stimulate a man’s sense of responsibleness more than this maxim, which invites him to imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended
Logotherapy tries to make the patient fully aware of his own responsibleness; therefore, it must leave to him the option for what, to what, or to whom he understands himself to be responsible. That is why a logotherapist is the least tempted of all psychotherapists to impose value judgments on his patients, for he will never permit the patient to pass to the doctor the responsibility of judging
By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system
being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself
the meaning of life always changes, but that it never ceases to be. According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed (do something); (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
The second way of finding a meaning in life is by experiencing something—such as goodness, truth and beauty (Transcendentals)—by experiencing nature and culture or, last but not least, by experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness—by loving him.
Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality
The third way of finding a meaning in life is by suffering
what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph
When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.
It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life
in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning
There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one’s work or to enjoy one’s life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering.
Has all this suffering, this dying around us, a meaning? For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends upon such a happenstance—as whether one escapes or not—ultimately would not be worth living at all
More and more, a psychiatrist is approached today by patients who confront him with human problems rather than neurotic symptoms
This ultimate meaning necessarily exceeds and surpasses the finite intellectual capacities of man; in logotherapy, we speak in this context of a super-meaning
bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms
A realistic fear, like the fear of death, cannot be tranquilized away by its psychodynamic interpretation; on the other hand, a neurotic fear, such as agoraphobia, cannot be cured by philosophical understanding
However, logotherapy has developed a special technique to handle such cases, too
we take as a starting point a condition which is frequently observed in neurotic individuals, namely, anticipatory anxiety.
produces precisely that of which the patient is afraid
likewise a forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes
excessive attention, or “hyper-reflection,” as it is called in logotherapy, may also be pathogenic
technique called “paradoxical intention
Such a procedure, however, must make use of the specifically human capacity for self-detachment inherent in a sense of humor
Paradoxical intention can also be applied in cases of sleep disturbance
try to do just the opposite, that is, to stay awake as long as possible
effective regardless of the etiological basis of the case concerned
as soon as the patient stops fighting his obsessions and instead tries to ridicule them by dealing with them in an ironical way—by applying paradoxical intention—the vicious circle is cut, the symptom diminishes and finally atrophies
It is not the neurotic’s self-concern, whether pity or contempt, which breaks the circle formation; the cue to cure is self-transcendence!
The Collective Neurosis
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 be sure, a human being is a finite thing, and his freedom is restricted. It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions
Critique of Pan-Determinism
erroneous and dangerous assumption, namely, that which I call “pan-determinism.” By that I mean the view of man which disregards his capacity to take a stand toward any conditions whatsoever
every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. Therefore, we can predict his future only within the large framework of a statistical survey referring to a whole group; the individual personality, however, remains essentially unpredictable
Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth
freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness
The Case for a Tragic Optimism
one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the “tragic triad,” as it is called in logotherapy, a triad which consists of those aspects of human existence which may be circumscribed by: (1) pain; (2) guilt; and (3) death
what matters is to make the best of any given situation. “The best,” however, is that which in Latin is called optimum—hence the reason I speak of a tragic optimism, that is, an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action
the drug scene is one aspect of a more general mass phenomenon, namely the feeling of meaninglessness resulting from a frustration of our existential needs which in turn has become a universal phenomenon in our industrial societies.
29 percent of the population complain that meaning is missing from their lives
unemployment neurosis.” And I could show that this neurosis really originated in a twofold erroneous identification: being jobless was equated with being useless, and being useless was equated with having a meaningless life.
as soon as they could fill their abundant free time with some sort of unpaid but meaningful activity—their depression disappeared although their economic situation had not changed and their hunger was the same
it is not a matter of pathology; rather than being the sign and symptom of a neurosis, it is, I would say, the proof of one’s humanness
it may well cause a pathological reaction
there is ample empirical evidence that the three facets of this syndrome—depression, aggression, addiction —are due to what is called in logotherapy “the existential vacuum,” a feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness
it turned out that there was a solution to their problem, an answer to their question, a meaning to their life. “Even if things only take such a good turn in one of a thousand cases,” my explanation continues, “who can guarantee that in your case it will not happen one day, sooner or later? (Boy is this unconvincing.)
Regarding the second facet of the mass neurotic syndrome —aggression
succeeded in artificially building up mutual aggressions between groups of boy scouts, and observed that the aggressions only subsided when the youngsters dedicated themselves to a collective purpose
As for the third issue, addiction
von Forstmeyer who noted that, as evidenced by tests and statistics, 90 percent of the alcoholics she studied had suffered from an abysmal feeling of meaninglessness
I will not be elaborating here on the meaning of one’s life as a whole, although I do not deny that such a long-range meaning does exist
Doesn’t the final meaning of life, too, reveal itself, if at all, only at its end, on the verge of death? And doesn’t this final meaning, too, depend on whether or not the potential meaning of each single situation has been actualized to the best of the respective individual’s knowledge and belief?
becoming aware of what can be done about a given situation
As Charlotte Bühler has stated: “All we can do is study the lives of people who seem to have found their answers to the questions of what ultimately human life is about as against those who have not.”
As logotherapy teaches, there are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life
Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life
For a quarter of a century I ran the neurological department of a general hospital and bore witness to my patients’ capacity to turn their predicaments into human achievements
Is this to say that suffering is indispensable to the discovery of meaning? In no way
If it is avoidable, the meaningful thing to do is to remove its cause, for unnecessary suffering is masochistic rather than heroic. If, on the other hand, one cannot change a situation that causes his suffering, he can still choose his attitude
In turning to the second aspect of the tragic triad, namely guilt
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. Since the end of World War II I have not become weary of publicly arguing against the collective guilt concept
The third aspect of the tragic triad concerns death
Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.
Confounding the dignity of man with mere usefulness arises from a conceptual confusion that in turn may be traced back to the contemporary nihilism transmitted on many an academic campus and many an analytical couch.
George A. Sargent was right when he promulgated the concept of “learned meaninglessness.”
You may of course ask whether we really need to refer to “saints.” Wouldn’t it suffice just to refer to decent people? It is true that they form a minority. More than that, they always will remain a minority. And yet I see therein the very challenge to join the minority.
Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.
And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake