(Might contain spoilers)
Before yesterday, I had often come across recommendations for this book. They all said how it was so inspiring and had been written by a Nazi concentration camp survivor. Now, I have read a bit about the era and seen movies about Nazi tortures. It was a painful time. It saddens me to read about it and I did not want to get depressed again reading about the worst possible dimension of human nature. It was for this reason, I just kept delaying reading the much touted Frankl’s book.
Yesterday, I eventually got it on my Kindle and started reading and I only stopped when my eyes completely surrendered and started once again as soon as I got up. It is a small book. But it’s power is enormous. Yes, It is about the concentration camps and torture but its not dispiriting. Instead, its uplifting and that is why it is a great book. Victor Frankl is an extraordinary man who not only survived the camps but at the same time used that experience to understand one of the man’s most basic survival skill as well as his innate desire – that of a meaning in life. Throughout the book he describes how those who were determined to allocate a meaning to their lives were the people who survived the unimaginable brutalities. As soon as any one gave up that trust in the meaning, they gave up all hope and were quickly consumed by death.
Through his and other’s struggle and survival, Frankl makes a case for having a meaning in one’s life. He asserts that it is not the will to pleasure (as advocated by Freudian School of Thought) or the will to power/money (as advocated by Adlerian School of Thought) but the will to meaning which is the most powerful driver of a human’s satisfaction and actions. He has christened this school of thought as ‘logotherapy’. He emphasizes that people can be helped more by focusing on their future and the actions which make that future possible than by delving deep into hidden desires and intents.
There is also much discussion about free will and liberty of man in the book. His view is that while man is not free of the situations and the difficulties he might have to face, he is free to choose his actions and the attitude which he will adopt in every possible circumstance – favorable or not.
He also suggests self transcendence as the best way to live a meaningful life and also having therapeutic value where one shifts his focus from himself to something outside it. This resonates with Bertrand Russell’s thought that a man’s locus should be external to his being. Being the locus of oneself forces one to constantly watch, evaluate and criticize one’s actions which can get very tiring and frustrating soon enough. So, one has to choose meaning which is external to self.
More than once he quotes Nietzsche’s words ‘ He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how’ which forms his credo as well. Here are a couple of lines from the book regarding Logotherapy –
‘According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways : 1) by creating a work or doing a deed 2) by experiencing something or encountering someone.3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.‘
He concludes with a thought that it is not happiness which man finally seeks but a reason to be happy – which means a meaning for his life and happiness is but a by-product of that. Also, meaning is not some generalized abstract concept but is unique to each and every person and should be tailored by answering the questions which life asks of us at different points in our lives.
All in all, it is indeed a very inspiring book and should be read at least once. I am glad I finally did.!