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Today, this remarkable tribute to hope offers us an avenue to finding greater meaning and purpose in our own lives. Viktor E Frankl.

About

For Frankl, meaning came from three possible sources: purposeful workloveand courage in the face of difficulty.

Man's search for meaning

Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self.

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Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance. Frankl illustrates this with a stirring example of how his feelings for his wife — who was eventually killed in the camps — gave him a sense of meaning:.

We search for a man at work in a trench. The dawn was grey around us; grey was the sky above; grey the snow in the pale light of dawn; grey the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad, and grey their faces. I was again conversing silently with my wife, or perhaps I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying.

In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria.

For hours I stood hacking at the icy ground. The guard passed by, insulting me, and once again I communed with my beloved. More and more I felt that she was present, that she was with me; I had the feeling that I was able to touch her, able to stretch out my hand and grasp hers. The feeling was very strong: she was there.

Then, at that very moment, a bird flew down silently and perched just in front of me, on the heap of soil which I had dug up from the ditch, and looked steadily at me. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.

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Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent. After discussing the common psychological patterns that unfold in inmates, Frankl is careful to challenge the assumption that human beings are invariably shaped by their circumstances. He writes:. But what about human liberty? Is there no spiritual freedom in regard to behavior and reaction to any given surroundings?

Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances? We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle.

Man's search for meaning

The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. Much like William James did in his treatise on habitFrankl places this notion of everyday choice at the epicenter of the human experience:. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the search for a man of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.

Like Henry Miller and Philip K. DickFrankl recognizes suffering as an essential piece not only of existence but of the meaningful life:.

If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death.

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Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal.

Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not. Everywhere search for a man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.

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Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, 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.

Man’s search for meaning teacher’s guide

We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct.

Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to search for a man problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny.

No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. 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.

Man's search for meaning

Sometimes man may search for a man required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross. Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand. In considering the human capacity for good and evil and the conditions that bring out indecency in decent peopleFrankl writes:. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils.

Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society.

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No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil?

The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is search for a man. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

Thus, logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence. Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.

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No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized.

Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.

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In the introduction to the edition, in reflecting upon the millions of copies sold in the half-century since the original publication, Frankl makes a poignant meta-comment about something George Saunders recently echoednoting:. In the first place I do not at all see in the bestseller status of my book an achievement and accomplishment on my part but rather an expression of the misery of our time: if hundreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their fingernails.

In the same introduction, he shares a piece of timeless advice on success he often gives his students:. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!

Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program deed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I receive a small percentage of its price, which goes straight back into my own colossal biblioexpenses. Privacy policy.

Frankl illustrates this with a stirring example of how his feelings for his wife — who was eventually killed in the camps — gave him a sense of meaning: We were at work in a trench. Lithograph by Leo Haas, Holocaust artist who survived Theresienstadt and Auschwitz public domain After discussing the common psychological patterns that unfold in inmates, Frankl is careful to challenge the assumption that human beings are invariably shaped by their circumstances.

He writes: But what about human liberty? Much like William James did in his search for a man on habitFrankl places this notion of everyday choice at the epicenter of the human experience: Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate. DickFrankl recognizes suffering as an essential piece not only of existence but of the meaningful life: If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.

Lithograph by Leo Haas, Holocaust artist who survived Theresienstadt and Auschwitz public domain In considering the human capacity for good and evil and the conditions that bring out indecency in decent peopleFrankl writes: Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn.

In the introduction to the edition, in reflecting upon the millions of copies sold in the half-century since the original publication, Frankl makes a poignant meta-comment about something George Saunders search for a man echoedsearch for a man In the first place I do not at all see in the bestseller status of my book an achievement and accomplishment on my part search for a man rather an expression of the misery of our time: if hundreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their fingernails.

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