A tribute to hope — “Man’s Search for Meaning”
I have a reading list. One I maintain on my Google Keep. And for the longest time, the book by Viktor E. Frankl was on this list. Man’s Search For Meaning. I have just completed reading this wonderful book and wanted to share my review here.
When I was a kid I was surprisingly resourceful at getting stuff to read. Of course, it also helped that there were no “parental restriction” for me at home when it came to books.
But there was one thing that my Mom stopped me from reading. An article on concentration camps. I found it strange as she had just introduced me to the word “Nazi” and told me a bit about concentration camps (this was prior to a holiday to Germany). Even so,she tried to make sure that I did not get my hands on any detailed account of the concentration camps.
After becoming a “grown up” I have read articles and references in stories about the lives in concentration camps but I would stop reading halfway through- I still haven’t completed reading Anne Frank’s Dairy. For some reason, such books affected me more than all the gore I otherwise read; perhaps it has to do with the fact that all the other stuff were fiction 😢
The 1st first person account I finished reading about Nazi camps is “Man’s Search for meaning”
The book is made up of two main sections. In the first part, author shares with us his life in the Nazi concentration camps. In the second part, he explains the concept of “Logotherapy”.
As heart breaking as the story in concentration camps are, my first impression was that at its heart this book is a love story.
Clearly not the romance genre, but one that reminds us of the strength of love; how it enriches our inner world even when our environment, our body is giving away to effects of torture. But as I read on, I realized that “love” was what gave meaning to author in the worst circumstances one could find oneself in. This “love” can be replaced by a greater good, a purpose — something/anything that gives meaning to life.
There is no escape from suffering. It may come in the form of concentration camps, loss of loved ones, or even “existential vacuum” that is responsible for collective neurosis today. Whatever be the cross that we have to bear, we can choose our attitude to it. In that it aligns with the Indian philosophy that the purpose of surviving hardships is to be a better version of ourselves. As Frankl puts it, “Man has both potentialities — to be a swine or a saint. …which one is actualized depends on decisions, not on external conditions”
After he speaks about the psychology of coping as a prisoner, he speaks about what happens when you are liberated… The person who has now achieved the impossible — freedom — has to re-learn being happy. This is true for all of us — after a tragedy ( it could be the loss of a person or the silent struggle against a disease) we need to teach ourselves to be happy like we would teach or learn a skill, like, say coding 🙂
In the second part of the book, he also introduces the concept of “logotherapy”. He explains this with no heavy jargon for the layman to understand.
The essence of logotherapy is simple. It says there are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life. (1) Creating work or a deed that gives us a sense of purpose or (2) being in love or (3) by changing ourselves(even when we are the helpless victims of a hopeless situation) and growing beyond ourselves.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who has ever encountered “existential vacuum” — which frankly, is most of us today. Because as it says on the cover, this book is ultimately a tribute to hope.
If you have read this book, I would love to know your thoughts. And are there any other books that you can recommend in this genre?