“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 way”
I have recently been on holidays and during my week away from the office I took the opportunity to reread Frankl’s classic text and consider my own ‘search’. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl describes with clarity and simplicity his experiences as a survivor of Auschwitz and other concentration camps during World War II. Prior to the outbreak of war, Frankl, a doctor, had been working on a treatise of his psychotherapeutic approach, which he called logotherapy (from the Greek logos or ‘meaning’). What is unique about Man’s Search for Meaning is the combination of first person narrative of the shocking world of the concentration camp inmate with a psychotherapeutic assessment of the realities of camp life and the behaviours of both inmates and the authorities.
In contrast to Freud’s belief that life is primarily about the pursuit of pleasure, Frankl discovers that man’s will to meaning is life’s primary driving force and that he, himself, is able to find meaning amidst conditions of the deepest suffering. This drive allows him to be free in spirit and to use this freedom to survive and amazingly to spiritually thrive. In Frankl’s case he never lets go in his mind’s eye of images of his wife (who tragically perished in another camp during the War) and also of himself lecturing after the War on his experiences. It his faith in the future which guides his survival as in the words of Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”.
I do not pretend to ‘review’ Man’s Search for Meaning, about which so much has been written and said already, including by Frankl himself. Rather this week’s Book Pick is more a reminder of how we all have the freedom of choice and that striving for what is worthwhile is in fact what gives our lives meaning. Frankl realised this even amidst unimaginable suffering, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task”.
For more of Frankl’s wisdom; explore: