If there ever was an experience that would excuse one of believing that life held no meaning and that suicide was a viable option, this — in my mind — would certainly be it.
The Last of the Human Freedoms
Living in a concentration camp became an endless struggle for life and daily bread. In this place of endless suffering, where all earthly possesions are stripped away — left only with one’s bare body — Frankl discovered something very profound. He realized that their captors may have had the power to take away all that they owned — even their liberty — but they weren’t able to take away the last of their human freedoms: the ability to choose how they respond to their circumstances. This is ultimately the core message of this book.
The Search for Meaning
Quoting Nietche, Frankl said, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” He noticed that those who had lost the will to live had already decided that life held nothing more for them. This thinking struck Frankl as a gross mistake. For “it did not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” We are put on this earth not to merely survive, but to find that greater truth and meaning specific to us and our situation.
What Frankl also noticed was that if a prisoner did not struggle to maintain his sense of self — a being with a mind — with inner freedom and personal value, his existence descended to the level of animal life. Despite this physical and mental primitiveness, one could still develop a deep spiritual and meaningful life. But this is easier said than done, “The conciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life. But how many free men, let alone prisoners, posses it?”
In the final analysis, the person the prisoner ultimately became was a result of an inner decision and not the result of camp influences alone. This freedom to choose how we react to what life throws ast us it what makes life meaningful and full of purpose.
After reading the first part of this book, I’ve noticed far too many times in my life how I’ve just given up when faced with challenges I thought were too big to bear. And then when I look at the trials these prisoners faced it helps to remind me that I too have a choice of how I ultimately respond to them — on top of that I’m blessed with a ton more resources at hand then they had!
If you struggle with challenges and trials that seem insurmountable, read just the first part of this book and I promise you that you’ll come to see the power of the human spirit in overcoming all that life may throw at you.
Man’s Search for Meaning is the thirteenth of fifty-two books in Life Training – Online’s series 52 Personal Development Books in 52 Weeks.