Thought provoking is a term often used to describe books, experiences, speeches, etc. that have a significant impact on peoples views of life, and it is a term which I find particularly ideal in describing Viktor E. Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” The book is based on the real life experience of Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian, Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who was held prisoner in Nazi controlled concentration camps for three years.
The suffering and horrors prisoners had to face daily in these camps were absolutely riveting and during the course of reading this book my emotions were often flooded with feelings of deep anger and sadness at the injustice, oppression and torture that they as fellow human beings had to endure. Yet the book in its entirety is not just a collection of tales of the horrors of the concentration camps, rather through these tales Frankl brings to light the psychology of survival and how important having a healthy personal perspective on life is in helping us get through extreme hardship.
Finding meaning and purpose is essential to how we view and live our lives. Without both our chances at successfully navigating difficult setbacks are slim. Throughout the book the author constantly reminds the reader to consider what defines their life. Who are we without our achievements, our reputation, our dignity? And what will become of us if some or all of these were taken from us? Would we keep going? Or would we cease to have any significant existence? As brought to light in the book, prisoners who did not see past the daily torture and reminders of what they had lost were left broken and in despair. Whereas in contrast to falling prey to the despair of cruelty and misfortune some prisoners chose to spread hope. One example of such prisoners who chose hope over despair can be seen in the following excerpt form the book;
“We who lived in 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.”
These prisoners looked past their provisional existence, found purpose, even in those dire circumstances, and chose to uplift others and even share what little belongings they had.
This book goes beyond just being a memoir and is one that gives us key life lessons that are essential to us thriving. Through it I have learned the huge role that the perspective we choose to adopt plays in how we navigate through not just tough life circumstances, but life in general. I also learned that our belongings and achievements do not define us and we should find a “why” or reason for living that is far beyond personal belongings and achievements. Lastly I learned that we should chose to always have a hopeful, helpful, selfless and generous attitude even in circumstances when it seems like all has been stripped away form us. What seems like a dire situation may actually be the right setup for us to rise to the occasion and provide much needed hope and a helping hand to others. Internal fixation on and rumination of the issues we face can often lead to disper, whereas changing our perspective away from ourselves and externally towards helping others may just be what helps us get through challenging times.