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Man's Search for Meaning Paperback – June 1, 2006
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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One of the great books of our time. —Harold S. Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People
"One of the outstanding contributions to psychological thought in the last fifty years."—Carl R. Rogers (1959)
"An enduring work of survival literature." —New York Times
"An accessible edition of the enduring classic. The spiritual account of the Holocaust and the description of logotherapy meets generations' need for hope."—Donna O. Dziedzic (PLA) AAUP Best of the Best Program
About the Author
Viktor E. Frankl was professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School until his death in 1997. His twenty-nine books have been translated into twenty-one languages. During World War II, he spent three years in Auschwitz, Dachau, and other concentration camps.
Harold S. Kushner is rabbi emeritus at Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts, and the author of bestselling books including When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Living a Life That Matters, and When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough.
William J. Winslade is a philosopher, lawyer, and psychoanalyst who teaches psychiatry, medical ethics, and medical jurisprudence at the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston.
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"We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
As his work prior to his time in the concentration camps had focused on depression and the prevention of suicide, he turned his focus to his own survival story and the people with whom he interacted in the camps. Why did some survive and others perish? What gave people the will to live? What gives life meaning?
Some favorite moments:
•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. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.
•Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, you freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
•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 believe have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.
•Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.
•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. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of "pure race" - and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.
•Now, being free, they thought they could use their freedom licentiously and ruthlessly. The only thing that had changed for them was the 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.
•"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."
•So, let us be alert - alert in a twofold sense: Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.
In the first part of the book, Frankl describes his personal experiences as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps. He traces the mental state of an average prisoner in the camps, beginning upon arrival, and through liberation. Frankl writes that after the initial shock of reaching the infamous camp, a prisoner would be overcome by a "delusion of reprieve", an irrational feeling of hope that his situation would somehow be changed for the better. However, after being separated from loved ones in the dreaded selections, and watching them walk towards the gas chambers to their deaths, the reality and horrification of it all dawned upon the prisoner. Frankl describes the next emotional stage as "relative apathy", which was a complete weakening of the prisoner's senses and feelings, leaving a body merely going through the motions of everyday camp routine rather than a person. According to Frankl, apathy was essential for the preservation of a prisoner's life, because it channeled every emotion he had towards the goal of making it through the day alive. The third and final stage that a prisoner experienced was the complete inability to grasp the meaning of freedom. Following this the prisoner would have to re-learn what emotions such as joy and pleasure meant. Throughout this development, there still remains the question: what were the thoughts that gave a prisoner the drive to live, completely necessary for the conservation of his life? Frankl provides answers to this question in the second section of the book.
Throughout the book, Frankl often quotes Nietzsche: "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how." In the second section, Frankl elaborates on how this phrase sums up, in a nutshell, the mentality with which he survived the war. Having a purpose in life, writes Frankl, is the key to withstanding almost any suffering. Frankl named his theory "logotherapy", since logos is Greek for meaning. A method employed in psychology, "logotherapy" causes a patient to pinpoint and become familiar with the meaning of his life, which according to Frankl is the patient's will to strive, succeed, and to live. Frankl goes on to suggest three ways in which one can strive for meaning. The first one, understandably, is to accomplish something. Additionally, meaning can be found by loving another. Finally, man can find meaning by suffering. When one is faced with suffering, and there is nothing he can do to change his predicament, the only remaining option is for him to change his perspective, to change the way in which he views the situation. An example that Frankl gives is of a story of a grieving widower who had lost his wife. The man came to Frankl to ask for advice. Frankl asked the man, "What would have happened...if you had died first and your wife would have had to survive without you?" Through this question, the suffering the man was enduring gained a new purpose, he was mourning, but his wife would not have to mourn him. This story illustrates the usage of "logotherapy", and how by using it, one can utilize his suffering and find meaning through it.
The Holocaust and World War II is a time in world history that has been studied and pondered by many scholars. There are volumes upon volumes written about this dark time in history. Man's Search for Meaning is unique because Frankl focuses on the psychology of it all. He brings proofs to back up his claim that man's search for meaning is, in and of itself, a will to live. Through starvation, sickness, torture and brutality, surrounded by death and despair, man can endure it all, he can even gain something from it, so long as he has a reason to keep going. Each individual has a different source of meaning, yet no matter what the cause, the meaning alone is what gives that man the drive to wake up each morning and endure whatever life sends his way. Even when faced with death itself, man can survive if he has a reason to.
This book was written specifically about the Holocaust and the concentration camps. Nonetheless, there is a life-changing lesson that one can learn from reading the book, no matter what his life circumstances may be. Life is full of challenges, but those challenges eventually cause a person to question who he is and what he stands for, thereby forcing him to determine the meaning in his life. No matter where a person comes from, and no matter where he is headed, he must have a purpose in his life in order to move forward, and to be able to look back at the end of his life and feel proud of all that he accomplished. In a brilliant and insightful way, Victor Frankl has ultimately handed his readers the key to success and happiness, and the answer to many questions; he has affirmed that above all, meaning is what makes life worth living.