This year has been a challenge. It is easy to feel discouraged, even desperate. Our lives are not the same as they were last year. There are quarantines, lost jobs, and mask mandates. It is almost like life is not within our control! The Wall Street Journal had an op-ed recently describing the shift from “known” unknowns to “unknown” unknowns in relation to the pandemic, because that is scarier. With all of the uncertainty and confusion, how do we find the strength to keep upright during a challenging time? With the polarization of society, how do we continue to see the best in people, even when it is difficult?
First published in 1946, Man’s Search for Meaning is about Frankl’s time at a Nazi concentration camp. It is a gripping, gritty, yet uplifting story. The first part of Man’s Search for Meaning is difficult to read. We have all heard of accounts of time spent in the concentration camps, however, it doesn’t make it any less hard to read. The uplifting part? He survived.
Frankl shares his experience and insights on survival and the human will to survive, despite how desperate and soul crushing the circumstances. He wanted to understand why some survived their time at a concentration camp while others perished. They ate the same meager foods, worked exhaustive hours in manual labor while being abused and were subject to the same harsh weather conditions. What separated the survivors from those who did not? Why did some give up and others press on? How did some keep their humanity, going so far as offering their last piece of bread to a starving companion?
The key to those questions was tackled by Frankl. It is illuminative to know that he was a psychologist before being taken to the camps. Even though he experienced the degradations of the camps and the loss of his family, he was also a keen observer of humanity. This leads to the gift of the book. The later chapters are a discussion of the observations he made as well as an introduction of “logotherapy”, the therapy of meaning. His contention is that people who “hoped” in the camps were more likely to die than those who had some sense of meaning or a feeling that they had more to do with their life after the camps. The survivor’s didn’t hope that they would be out by spring…they knew they had something important to do WHEN they got out.
This is one of my favorite books, and I can’t believe I didn’t review it before now. The account of survival and humanity and the lessons learned are worth the read. 2020 has been a challenging year but in the big scheme of life it will be a blip on the radar. This book will put our challenges in perspective. It may even change the way you look at life.