BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

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Dragline
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BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by Dragline »

I'm going to present this review in three posts.

When reading for content, I try to read books in the manner recommended by Mortimer Adler in "How to Read a Book", although I never quite succeed to that level. Basically it means taking lots of notes and reflecting up them, although Adler is way more didactic.

The next post below is my raw notes and reactions. It's very long, so feel free to skip it if you are so inclined. The third post distills my main thoughts.

If you haven't read the book, here is a decent YouTube summary of who Frankl was and what he propounded: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axXsz2TVoAw

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by Dragline »

Notes on the text of the books:

“Terrible as it was, his experience in Auschwitz reinforced what was already one of his key ideas: Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.”

From the introduction. This is the essential summary of the entire book.


“I therefore admonish my students both in Europe and in America: “Don’t aim at success— the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

From the introduction. I suppose it depends on how you define “success”. I agree that “success” defined as achieving some “prize” is unlikely to be that satisfying. Success usually comes from practicing and doing well over the course of time in something you enjoy doing for its own sake. This is especially true in artistic and musical pursuits.



“The truth— that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way —an honorable way— in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.” In front of me a man stumbled and those following him fell on top of him. The guard rushed over and used his whip on them all. Thus my thoughts were interrupted for a few minutes. But soon my soul found its way back from the prisoner’s existence to another world, and I resumed talk with my loved one: I asked her questions, and she answered; she questioned me in return, and I answered. “Stop!” We had arrived at our work site. Everybody rushed into the dark hut in the hope of getting a fairly decent tool. Each prisoner got a spade or a pickaxe. “Can’t you hurry up, you pigs?” Soon we had resumed the previous day’s positions in the ditch. The frozen ground cracked under the point of the pickaxes, and sparks flew. The men were silent, their brains numb. My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing— which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.”

From VF’s time in the camp. He had been married not long before and his wife was pregnant when they were sent to separate camps. She was probably dead when he was thinking these thoughts. It is hard to explain, but I agree that falling in love can open possibilities, goals and aspirations that simply were not there without that feeling. Love does allow one to endure extreme hardship simply on the possibility of experiencing the feeling again.


“The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. 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.”

The pregnant question is “why” did those who showed compassion decide to do what they did? Was it genetic? Was it by prior training? (The old nature-nurture dispute). It is undeniable, however, that there was something different and decided about the individuals he describes. And unless there is a clear answer to the “why” question, which there does not appear to be, it does end up being a matter of personal choice.


“An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature. But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him. But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.
The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity— even under the most difficult circumstances— to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.
Do not think that these considerations are unworldly and too far removed from real life. It is true that only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate. Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.”

Quite stoic. Consider how this compares with Epictetus (Enchiridon), who was born a slave and was reputed to have had his leg broken intentionally by his master, crippling him for life. Why would a man living nearly 2000 years later in horrible conditions come to the same conclusions?



“Those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man— his courage and hope, or lack of them— and the state of immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect. The ultimate cause of my friend’s death was that the expected liberation did not come and he was severely disappointed. This suddenly lowered his body’s resistance against the latent typhus infection. His faith in the future and his will to live had become paralyzed and his body fell victim to illness— and thus the voice of his dream was right after all.
The observations of this one case and the conclusion drawn from them are in accordance with something that was drawn to my attention by the chief doctor of our concentration camp. The death rate in the week between Christmas, 1944, and New Year’s, 1945, increased in camp beyond all previous experience. In his opinion, the explanation for this increase did not lie in the harder working conditions or the deterioration of our food supplies or a change of weather or new epidemics. It was simply that the majority of the prisoners had lived in the naïve hope that they would be home again by Christmas. As the time drew near and there was no encouraging news, the prisoners lost courage and disappointment overcame them. This had a dangerous influence on their powers of resistance and a great number of them died.”

This idea seems to be borne out in various medical cases where some lived and some died for no particular reason other than the survivors appear to be more optimistic or at least more tenacious about surviving. The mechanism between positive thought and physical survival remains unexplained, though.


“What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life— daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. “Life” does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross. Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand.”

I found this very attractive. Questions like “what is the meaning of life?” implicitly assume that the meaning must be the same for each person. Yet there is no basis for this assumption, other than a desire for a certain “foolish consistency” to apply one standard across all domains no matter how different they might be.

This meshes well with Emerson’s essay, “Self Reliance”, of which I am particularly fond.

It also asks a better question for figuring out what to do with oneself – not “what do I do based on some generalized belief about the meaning of life”, but “how can I find and/or draw meaning about my particular situation?”



“When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.
For us, as prisoners, these thoughts were not speculations far removed from reality. They were the only thoughts that could be of help to us. They kept us from despair, even when there seemed to be no chance of coming out of it alive. Long ago we had passed the stage of asking what was the meaning of life, a naïve query which understands life as the attaining of some aim through the active creation of something of value. For us, the meaning of life embraced the wider cycles of life and death, of suffering and of dying.”

Sometimes survival is where it’s at.


“This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.””

I find that it’s true that feeling a certain responsibility for something – whether it be a job, a family member or some task in one’s community – often provides all of the motivation that one needs. Paradoxically, to reject all responsibility in life does not provide fulfillment, but only a sense of uselessness.



“Then I spoke of the many opportunities of giving life a meaning. I told my comrades (who lay motionless, although occasionally a sigh could be heard) that human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death. I asked the poor creatures who listened to me attentively in the darkness of the hut to face up to the seriousness of our position. They must not lose hope but should keep their courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning. I said that someone looks down on each of us in difficult hours— a friend, a wife, somebody alive or dead, or a God— and he would not expect us to disappoint him. He would hope to find us suffering proudly— not miserably— knowing how to die.
And finally I spoke of our sacrifice, which had meaning in every case. It was in the nature of this sacrifice that it should appear to be pointless in the normal world, the world of material success. But in reality our sacrifice did have a meaning. Those of us who had any religious faith, I said frankly, could understand without difficulty. I told them of a comrade who on his arrival in camp had tried to make a pact with Heaven that his suffering and death should save the human being he loved from a painful end. For this man, suffering and death were meaningful; his was a sacrifice of the deepest significance. He did not want to die for nothing. None of us wanted that.
The purpose of my words was to find a full meaning in our life, then and there, in that hut and in that practically hopeless situation. I saw that my efforts had been successful. When the electric bulb flared up again, I saw the miserable figures of my friends limping toward me to thank me with tears in their eyes. But I have to confess here that only too rarely had I the inner strength to make contact with my companions in suffering and that I must have missed many opportunities for doing so.”

There may be something more robust in individuals who possess some faith, at least when it comes to survival. I was reminded of a podcast re “Economics of Religion” you can find on Econtalk. I was also reminded of Alain Botton’s recent efforts to create a kind of religion out of culture – Google his extensive “School of Life” efforts.


“We now come to the third stage of a prisoner’s mental reactions: the psychology of the prisoner after his liberation. But prior to that we shall consider a question which the psychologist is asked frequently, especially when he has personal knowledge of these matters: What can you tell us about the psychological make-up of the camp guards? How is it possible that men of flesh and blood could treat others as so many prisoners say they have been treated? Having once heard these accounts and having come to believe that these things did happen, one is bound to ask how, psychologically, they could happen.
To answer this question without going into great detail, a few things must be pointed out: First, among the guards there were some sadists, sadists in the purest clinical sense.
Second, these sadists were always selected when a really severe detachment of guards was needed.
There was great joy at our work site when we had permission to warm ourselves for a few minutes (after two hours of work in the bitter frost) in front of a little stove which was fed with twigs and scraps of wood. But there were always some foremen who found a great pleasure in taking this comfort from us. How clearly their faces reflected this pleasure when they not only forbade us to stand there but turned over the stove and dumped its lovely fire into the snow! When the SS took a dislike to a person, there was always some special man in their ranks known to have a passion for, and to be highly specialized in, sadistic torture, to whom the unfortunate prisoner was sent.”

VF recognized that some people are prone to sadism or other acts of simply having power over others, but did not seem to be aware of H. Cleckley’s seminal work from 1941 about psychopaths – The Mask of Sanity. I thought this was a hole in his thought processes – he seemed to assume that this was a temporary condition. In my view, any utopian/dystopian system always tend to favor and is ripe for overtaking by psychopaths and zero empathy people, because such systems require people that do the dirty work of eliminating anyone who gets in the way of the utopian dream or goal. Also consider the “meaning” that a psychopath might find in life – that would be more like Nietsche’s “will to power”, at least for an individual with self-control or Freud’s “will to pleasure” for psychopaths who lack self-control. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_to_power



“From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two— the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of “pure race”— and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.
Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil? The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp.”

I agree with this – see note above. However, VF did not follow up, because here he draws a clear distinction whereas elsewhere he seems to claim that an individual can “switch races”. Maybe that is true in some cases, but I am doubtful.


“The Will to Meaning
Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning. There are some authors who contend that meanings and values are “nothing but defense mechanisms, reaction formations and sublimations.” But as for myself, I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my “defense mechanisms,” nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my “reaction formations.” Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values!
A public-opinion poll was conducted a few years ago in France. The results showed that 89 percent of the people polled admitted that man needs “something” for the sake of which to live. Moreover, 61 percent conceded that there was something, or someone, in their own lives for whose sake they were even ready to die. I repeated this poll at my hospital department in Vienna among both the patients and the personnel, and the outcome was practically the same as among the thousands of people screened in France; the difference was only 2 percent.
Another statistical survey, of 7,948 students at forty-eight colleges, was conducted by social scientists from Johns Hopkins University. Their preliminary report is part of a two-year study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health. Asked what they considered “very important” to them now, 16 percent of the students checked “making a lot of money”; 78 percent said their first goal was “finding a purpose and meaning to my life.” Of course, there may be some cases in which an individual’s concern with values is really a camouflage of hidden inner conflicts; but, if so, they represent the exceptions from the rule rather than the rule itself. In these cases we have actually to deal with pseudovalues, and as such they have to be unmasked. Unmasking, however, should stop as soon as one is confronted with what is authentic and genuine in man, e.g., man’s desire for a life that is as meaningful as possible. If it does not stop then, the only thing that the “unmasking psychologist” really unmasks is his own “hidden motive”— namely, his unconscious need to debase and depreciate what is genuine, what is genuinely human, in man.”

The data – at least as presented here – seem to support the hypothesis, at least as presented here and in my personal experience. Contrast this with the competing theories – Adler’s “will to power” drawn from Nietsche and Freud’s “will to pleasure” as the driving force. I think the latter two describe more abnormal conditions rather than average ones.


“Let me quote the following instance: A high-ranking American diplomat came to my office in Vienna in order to continue psychoanalytic treatment which he had begun five years previously with an analyst in New York. At the outset I asked him why he thought he should be analyzed, why his analysis had been started in the first place. It turned out that the patient was discontented with his career and found it most difficult to comply with American foreign policy. His analyst, however, had told him again and again that he should try to reconcile himself with his father; because the government of the U.S. as well as his superiors were “nothing but” father images and, consequently, his dissatisfaction with his job was due to the hatred he unconsciously harbored toward his father. Through an analysis lasting five years, the patient had been prompted more and more to accept his analyst’s interpretations until he finally was unable to see the forest of reality for the trees of symbols and images. After a few interviews, it was clear that his will to meaning was frustrated by his vocation, and he actually longed to be engaged in some other kind of work. As there was no reason for not giving up his profession and embarking on a different one, he did so, with most gratifying results. He has remained contented in this new occupation for over five years, as he recently reported. I doubt that, in this case, I was dealing with a neurotic condition at all, and that is why I thought that he did not need any psychotherapy, nor even logotherapy, for the simple reason that he was not actually a patient. Not every conflict is necessarily neurotic; some amount of conflict is normal and healthy. In a similar sense suffering is not always a pathological phenomenon; rather than being a symptom of neurosis, suffering may well be a human achievement, especially if the suffering grows out of existential frustration. I would strictly deny that one’s search for a meaning to his existence, or even his doubt of it, in every case is derived from, or results in, any disease. Existential frustration is in itself neither pathological nor pathogenic. A man’s concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease. It may well be that interpreting the first in terms of the latter motivates a doctor to bury his patient’s existential despair under a heap of tranquilizing drugs. It is his task, rather, to pilot the patient through his existential crises of growth and development.

Careerism can make people feel sick and neurotic. I agree. This also distinguishes “purpose” from “meaning”, although they are related. “Purpose” can be defined objectively or at least from outside one’s self – your career can serve the purpose of another and probably does. “Meaning” involves a self-subjective “purpose” that others might not see as purposeful enough. Sound familiar?


“Logotherapy regards its assignment as that of assisting the patient to find meaning in his life. Inasmuch as logotherapy makes him aware of the hidden logos of his existence, it is an analytical process. To this extent, logotherapy resembles psychoanalysis. However, in logotherapy’s attempt to make something conscious again it does not restrict its activity to instinctual facts within the individual’s unconscious but also cares for existential realities, such as the potential meaning of his existence to be fulfilled as well as his will to meaning. Any analysis, however, even when it refrains from including the noölogical dimension in its therapeutic process, tries to make the patient aware of what he actually longs for in the depth of his being. Logotherapy deviates from psychoanalysis insofar as it considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts, or in merely reconciling the conflicting claims of id, ego and superego, or in the mere adaptation and adjustment to society and environment.”

But I wonder why logotherapy never really took off in the treatment community where it’s a small segment. Perhaps because the medical side went more towards pharmaceuticals. Or perhaps it has really just been incorporated into cognitive behavioral therapy and related treatment regimens.



“The Existential Vacuum
The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the twentieth century. This is understandable; it may be due to a twofold loss which man has had to undergo since he became a truly human being. At the beginning of human history, man lost some of the basic animal instincts in which an animal’s behavior is imbedded and by which it is secured. Such security, like Paradise, is closed to man forever; man has to make choices. In addition to this, however, man has suffered another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).
A statistical survey recently revealed that among my European students, 25 percent showed a more-or-less marked degree of existential vacuum. Among my American students it was not 25 but 60 percent.
The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. Now we can understand Schopenhauer when he said that mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom. In actual fact, boredom is now causing, and certainly bringing to psychiatrists, more problems to solve than distress. And these problems are growing increasingly crucial, for progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.
Let us consider, for instance, “Sunday neurosis,” that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest. Not a few cases of suicide can be traced back to this existential vacuum. Such widespread phenomena as depression, aggression and addiction are not understandable unless we recognize the existential vacuum underlying them. This is also true of the crises of pensioners and aging people.
Moreover, there are various masks and guises under which the existential vacuum appears. Sometimes the frustrated will to meaning is vicariously compensated for by a will to power, including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. In other cases, the place of frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure. That is why existential frustration often eventuates in sexual compensation. We can observe in such cases that the sexual libido becomes rampant in the existential vacuum.
An analogous event occurs in neurotic cases. There are certain types of feedback mechanisms and vicious-circle formations which I will touch upon later. One can observe again and again, however, that this symptomatology has invaded an existential vacuum wherein it then continues to flourish. In such patients, what we have to deal with is not a noögenic neurosis. However, we will never succeed in having the patient overcome his condition if we have not supplemented the psychotherapeutic treatment with logotherapy. For by filling the existential vacuum, the patient will be prevented from suffering further relapses. Therefore, logotherapy is indicated not only in noögenic cases, as pointed out above, but also in psychogenic cases, and sometimes even the somatogenic (pseudo-) neuroses. Viewed in this light, a statement once made by Magda B. Arnold is justified: “Every therapy must in some way, no matter how restricted, also be logotherapy.”

I think the concept of an existential vacuum is something faced by almost everyone at some point. For some longer than for others. After the basic needs are satisfied on Maslow’s hierarchy, you come to a place where “what do I really want to do with myself” can become a preoccupation. I think you are better off looking at this as a dynamic question, which answers change over time, rather than as an answer that locks you in to a certain pathway (and that foolish consistency of Emerson).


“Logotherapy tries to make the patient fully aware of his own responsibleness; therefore, it must leave to him the option for what, to what, or to whom he understands himself to be responsible. That is why a logotherapist is the least tempted of all psychotherapists to impose value judgments on his patients, for he will never permit the patient to pass to the doctor the responsibility of judging.
It is, therefore, up to the patient to decide whether he should interpret his life task as being responsible to society or to his own conscience. There are people, however, who do not interpret their own lives merely in terms of a task assigned to them but also in terms of the taskmaster who has assigned it to them.
Logotherapy is neither teaching nor preaching. It is as far removed from logical reasoning as it is from moral exhortation. To put it figuratively, the role played by a logotherapist is that of an eye specialist rather than that of a painter. A painter tries to convey to us a picture of the world as he sees it; an ophthalmologist tries to enable us to see the world as it really is. The logotherapist’s role consists of widening and broadening the visual field of the patient so that the whole spectrum of potential meaning becomes conscious and visible to him.
By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. I have termed this constitutive characteristic “the self-transcendence of human existence.” It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself— be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself— by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love— the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”

I think most people fall into the trap of the second paragraph. After all, that is what schooling trains you to do. Self-transcendance is an existential concept that Karl Jaspers spends a lot of time talking about. It is very difficult to comprehend. But I agree that the concept of “self-actualization” may be a chimera for most people. This passage says a lot about consumerism, which both is assigned by a taskmaster and is designed to provide a concrete measure of self-actualization – i.e., “he who dies with the most toys wins.”


“Thus far we have shown that the meaning of life always changes, but that it never ceases to be. 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; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.“

This is a great and elegant model for looking at life. It is the reverse but the same as described in Dan Pink’s Drive, where meaningful activities are broken down into the components of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.


“Edith Weisskopf-Joelson, before her death professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, contended, in her article on logotherapy, that “our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy.” 4 And in another paper she expressed the hope that logotherapy “may help counteract certain unhealthy trends in the present-day culture of the United States, where the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading” so that “he is not only unhappy, but also ashamed of being unhappy.”
There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one’s work or to enjoy one’s life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end. In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering.”

Happiness is also a chimeric goal. It is almost impossible to be happy all the time, as one cannot even know what it means without experiencing some unhappiness or something neutral to compare it to.


“Let me recall that which was perhaps the deepest experience I had in the concentration camp. The odds of surviving the camp were no more than one in twenty-eight, as can easily be verified by exact statistics. It did not even seem possible, let alone probable, that the manuscript of my first book, which I had hidden in my coat when I arrived at Auschwitz, would ever be rescued. Thus, I had to undergo and to overcome the loss of my mental child. And now it seemed as if nothing and no one would survive me; neither a physical nor a mental child of my own! So I found myself confronted with the question whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning.
Not yet did I notice that an answer to this question with which I was wrestling so passionately was already in store for me, and that soon thereafter this answer would be given to me. This was the case when I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had already been sent to the gas chamber immediately after his arrival at the Auschwitz railway station. Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in a pocket of the newly acquired coat one single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, containing the most important Jewish prayer, Shema Yisrael. How should I have interpreted such a “coincidence” other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?
A bit later, I remember, it seemed to me that I would die in the near future. In this critical situation, however, my concern was different from that of most of my comrades. Their question was, “Will we survive the camp? For, if not, all this suffering has no meaning.” The question which beset me was, “Has all this suffering, this dying around us, a meaning? For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends upon such a happenstance— as whether one escapes or not— ultimately would not be worth living at all.”

I have difficulty even imagining going through this experience. But it seems undeniable that one’s mental attitude is a key component to making it through difficult times.


“The Super Meaning
This ultimate meaning necessarily exceeds and surpasses the finite intellectual capacities of man; in logotherapy, we speak in this context of a super-meaning. What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms. Logos is deeper than logic.
A psychiatrist who goes beyond the concept of the super-meaning will sooner or later be embarrassed by his patients, just as I was when my daughter at about six years of age asked me the question, “Why do we speak of the good Lord?” Whereupon I said, “Some weeks ago, you were suffering from measles, and then the good Lord sent you full recovery.” However, the little girl was not content; she retorted, “Well, but please, Daddy, do not forget: in the first place, he had sent me the measles.””

This was funny.


“Let me cite the case of Dr. J. He was the only man I ever encountered in my whole life whom I would dare to call a Mephistophelean being, a satanic figure. At that time he was generally called “the mass murderer of Steinhof” (the large mental hospital in Vienna). When the Nazis started their euthanasia program, he held all the strings in his hands and was so fanatic in the job assigned to him that he tried not to let one single psychotic individual escape the gas chamber. After the war, when I came back to Vienna, I asked what had happened to Dr. J. “He had been imprisoned by the Russians in one of the isolation cells of Steinhof,” they told me. “The next day, however, the door of his cell stood open and Dr. J. was never seen again.” Later I was convinced that, like others, he had with the help of his comrades made his way to South America.
More recently, however, I was consulted by a former Austrian diplomat who had been imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain for many years, first in Siberia and then in the famous Lubianka prison in Moscow. While I was examining him neurologically, he suddenly asked me whether I happened to know Dr. J. After my affrmative reply he continued: “I made his acquaintance in Lubianka. There he died, at about the age of forty, from cancer of the urinary bladder. Before he died, however, he showed himself to be the best comrade you can imagine! He gave consolation to everybody. He lived up to the highest conceivable moral standard. He was the best friend I ever met during my long years in prison!”
This is the story of Dr. J., “the mass murderer of Steinhof.” How can we dare to predict the behavior of man? We may predict the movements of a machine, of an automaton; more than this, we may even try to predict the mechanisms or “dynamisms” of the human psyche as well. But man is more than psyche.”

I have difficulty believing that this leopard changed his spots. Studies of psychopathic individuals have not borne this out. But perhaps it is possible – I find that many otherwise caring people seem entranced by the idea of euthanasia without grappling with the question of who gets to decide who gets to die and when.



“To the European, it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to “be happy.” But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to “be happy.” Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically. As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy, last but not least, through actualizing the potential meaning inherent and dormant in a given situation.
This need for a reason is similar in another specifically human phenomenon— laughter. If you want anyone to laugh you have to provide him with a reason, e.g., you have to tell him a joke. In no way is it possible to evoke real laughter by urging him, or having him urge himself, to laugh. Doing so would be the same as urging people posed in front of a camera to say “cheese,” only to find that in the finished photographs their faces are frozen in artificial smiles.
In logotherapy, such a behavior pattern is called “hyper-intention.” It plays an important role in the causation of sexual neurosis, be it frigidity or impotence. The more a patient, instead of forgetting himself through giving himself, directly strives for orgasm, i.e., sexual pleasure, the more this pursuit of sexual pleasure becomes self-defeating. Indeed, what is called “the pleasure principle” is, rather, a fun-spoiler.
Once an individual’s search for a meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering. And what happens if one’s groping for a meaning has been in vain? This may well result in a fatal condition. Let us recall, for instance, what sometimes happened in extreme situations such as prisoner-of-war camps or concentration camps. In the first, as I was told by American soldiers, a behavior pattern crystallized to which they referred as “give-up-itis.” In the concentration camps, this behavior was paralleled by those who one morning, at five, refused to get up and go to work and instead stayed in the hut, on the straw wet with urine and feces. Nothing— neither warnings nor threats— could induce them to change their minds. And then something typical occurred: they took out a cigarette from deep down in a pocket where they had hidden it and started smoking. At that moment we knew that for the next forty-eight hours or so we would watch them dying. Meaning orientation had subsided, and consequently the seeking of immediate pleasure had taken over.”

I have found these observations to be true. Happiness can follow meaning, but happiness is seldom if ever a meaning unto itself – it’s too vague and ephemeral.


“Is this not reminiscent of another parallel, a parallel that confronts us day by day? I think of those youngsters who, on a worldwide scale, refer to themselves as the “no future” generation. To be sure, it is not just a cigarette to which they resort; it is drugs.
In fact, the drug scene is one aspect of a more general mass phenomenon, namely the feeling of meaninglessness resulting from a frustration of our existential needs which in turn has become a universal phenomenon in our industrial societies. Today it is not only logotherapists who claim that the feeling of meaninglessness plays an ever increasing role in the etiology of neurosis. As Irvin D. Yalom of Stanford University states in Existential Psychotherapy: “Of forty consecutive patients applying for therapy at a psychiatric outpatient clinic … twelve (30 percent) had some major problem involving meaning (as adjudged from self-ratings, therapists, or independent judges).” Thousands of miles east of Palo Alto, the situation differs only by 1 percent; the most recent pertinent statistics indicate that in Vienna, 29 percent of the population complain that meaning is missing from their lives.
As to the causation of the feeling of meaninglessness, one may say, albeit in an oversimplifying vein, that people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning. To be sure, some do not even have the means. In particular, I think of the mass of people who are today unemployed. Fifty years ago, I published a study devoted to a specific type of depression I had diagnosed in cases of young patients suffering from what I called “unemployment neurosis.” And I could show that this neurosis really originated in a twofold erroneous identification: being jobless was equated with being useless, and being useless was equated with having a meaningless life. Consequently, whenever I succeeded in persuading the patients to volunteer in youth organizations, adult education, public libraries and the like— in other words, as soon as they could fill their abundant free time with some sort of unpaid but meaningful activity— their depression disappeared although their economic situation had not changed and their hunger was the same. The truth is that man does not live by welfare alone.
Along with unemployment neurosis, which is triggered by an individual’s socioeconomic situation, there are other types of depression which are traceable back to psychodynamic or biochemical conditions, whichever the case may be. Accordingly, psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy are indicated respectively. Insofar as the feeling of meaninglessness is concerned, however, we should not overlook and forget that, per se, it is not a matter of pathology; rather than being the sign and symptom of a neurosis, it is, I would say, the proof of one’s humanness. But although it is not caused by anything pathological, it may well cause a pathological reaction; in other words, it is potentially pathogenic. Just consider the mass neurotic syndrome so pervasive in the young generation: there is ample empirical evidence that the three facets of this syndrome— depression, aggression, addiction —are due to what is called in logotherapy “the existential vacuum,” a feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness.”

Addictions it would appear are a substitute for meaning. I agree that when people lack a meaningful pursuit that they have actively chosen, they often fall into them. Drugs are one, but the more common one is buying stuff.
But isn’t it funny how every young generation is termed a “no future” generation? Yet the future comes all the same and somehow most of them make it there one way or another.


“As logotherapy teaches, there are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life. The first is by creating a work or by doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love. Edith Weisskopf-Joelson observed in this context that the logotherapeutic “notion that experiencing can be as valuable as achieving is therapeutic because it compensates for our one-sided emphasis on the external world of achievement at the expense of the internal world of experience.”
Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph. Again it was Edith Weisskopf-Joelson who, as mentioned, once expressed the hope that logotherapy “may help counteract certain unhealthy trends in the present-day culture of the United States, where the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading” so that “he is not only unhappy, but also ashamed of being unhappy.”

This is why I think some of the positive psychology stuff is misplaced.


“But the most powerful arguments in favor of “a tragic optimism” are those which in Latin are called argumenta ad hominem. Jerry Long, to cite an example, is a living testimony to “the defiant power of the human spirit,” as it is called in logotherapy. To quote the Texarkana Gazette, “Jerry Long has been paralyzed from his neck down since a diving accident which rendered him a quadriplegic three years ago. He was seventeen when the accident occurred. Today Long can use his mouth stick to type. He ‘attends’ two courses at Community College via a special telephone. The intercom allows Long to both hear and participate in class discussions. He also occupies his time by reading, watching television and writing.” And in a letter I received from him, he writes: “I view my life as being abundant with meaning and purpose. The attitude that I adopted on that fateful day has become my personal credo for life: I broke my neck, it didn’t break me. I am currently enrolled in my first psychology course in college. I believe that my handicap will only enhance my ability to help others. I know that without the suffering, the growth that I have achieved would have been impossible.”
Is this to say that suffering is indispensable to the discovery of meaning? In no way. I only insist that meaning is available in spite of— nay, even through— suffering, provided, as noted in Part Two of this book, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it is avoidable, the meaningful thing to do is to remove its cause, for unnecessary suffering is masochistic rather than heroic. If, on the other hand, one cannot change a situation that causes his suffering, he can still choose his attitude. Long had not chosen to break his neck, but he did decide not to let himself be broken by what had happened to him.”

The latter paragraph comports almost exactly with classic stoicism.


“As for the concept of collective guilt, I personally think that it is totally unjustified to hold one person responsible for the behavior of another person or a collective of persons. Since the end of World War II I have not become weary of publicly arguing against the collective guilt concept. Sometimes, however, it takes a lot of didactic tricks to detach people from their superstitions. An American woman once confronted me with the reproach, “How can you still write some of your books in German, Adolf Hitler’s language?” In response, I asked her if she had knives in her kitchen, and when she answered that she did, I acted dismayed and shocked, exclaiming, “How can you still use knives after so many killers have used them to stab and murder their victims?” She stopped objecting to my writing books in German.”

I was amused by this passage.


“From this one may see that there is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past— the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized— and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.”

I thought this was a wonderful thought. But it does imply some pressure to do something you consider meaningful, lest your stock of “assets” is a meager one.


“More specifically, this usefulness is usually defined in terms of functioning for the benefit of society. But today’s society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people who are successful and happy and, in particular, it adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise, and in so doing blurs the decisive difference between being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness. If one is not cognizant of this difference and holds that an individual’s value stems only from his present usefulness, then, believe me, one owes it only to personal inconsistency not to plead for euthanasia along the lines of Hitler’s program, that is to say, “mercy” killing of all those who have lost their social usefulness, be it because of old age, incurable illness, mental deterioration, or whatever handicap they may suffer.
Confounding the dignity of man with mere usefulness arises from a conceptual confusion that in turn may be traced back to the contemporary nihilism transmitted on many an academic campus and many an analytical couch. Even in the setting of training analyses such an indoctrination may take place. Nihilism does not contend that there is nothing, but it states that everything is meaningless. And George A. Sargent was right when he promulgated the concept of “learned meaninglessness.” He himself remembered a therapist who said, “George, you must realize that the world is a joke. There is no justice, everything is random. Only when you realize this will you understand how silly it is to take yourself seriously. There is no grand purpose in the universe. It just is. There’s no particular meaning in what decision you make today about how to act.””

I think we have shifted a bit to adoration of the famous, who still usually happen to be successful and younger on average. But herein may lie the difference between “purpose”, which can be define externally by societal norms and “meaning” which is an individual and subjective pursuit.


“I first read Man’s Search for Meaning as a philosophy professor in the mid-1960s. The book was brought to my attention by a Norwegian philosopher who had himself been incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp. My colleague remarked how strongly he agreed with Frankl about the importance of nourishing one’s inner freedom, embracing the value of beauty in nature, art, poetry, and literature, and feeling love for family and friends. But other personal choices, activities, relationships, hobbies, and even simple pleasures can also give meaning to life. Why, then, do some people find themselves feeling so empty? Frankl’s wisdom here is worth emphasizing: it is a question of the attitude one takes toward life’s challenges and opportunities, both large and small. A positive attitude enables a person to endure suffering and disappointment as well as enhance enjoyment and satisfaction. A negative attitude intensifies pain and deepens disappointments; it undermines and diminishes pleasure, happiness, and satisfaction; it may even lead to depression or physical illness.
My friend and former colleague Norman Cousins was a tireless advocate for the value of positive emotions in promoting health, and he warned of the danger that negative emotions may jeopardize it. Although some critics attacked Cousins’s views as simplistic, subsequent research in psychoneuroimmunology has supported the ways in which positive emotions, expectations, and attitudes enhance our immune system. This research also reinforces Frankl’s belief that one’s approach to everything from life-threatening challenges to everyday situations helps to shape the meaning of our lives. The simple truth that Frankl so ardently promoted has profound significance for anyone who listens.
The choices humans make should be active rather than passive. In making personal choices we affirm our autonomy. “A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other,” Frankl writes, “but man is ultimately self determining. What he becomes— within the limits of endowment and environment— he has made out of himself.” . . .

"Frankl’s comment hints at the reasons why Man’s Search for Meaning has such a powerful impact on many readers. Persons facing existential challenges or crises may seek advice or guidance from family, friends, therapists, or religious counselors. Sometimes such advice is helpful; sometimes it is not. Persons facing difficult choices may not fully appreciate how much their own attitude interferes with the decision they need to make or the action they need to take. Frankl offers readers who are searching for answers to life’s dilemmas a critical mandate: he does not tell people what to do, but why they must do it.”

This was not from the book itself, but from a commentary at the end. You can see here how Frankl’s work presages the positive psychology movement and modern appeals to ancient stoicism.


“Two years later he married Eleanore Schwindt, who, like his first wife, was a nurse. Unlike Tilly, who was Jewish, Elly was Catholic. Although this may have been mere coincidence, it was characteristic of Viktor Frankl to accept individuals regardless of their religious beliefs or secular convictions. His deep commitment to the uniqueness and dignity of each individual was illustrated by his admiration for Freud and Adler even though he disagreed with their philosophical and psychological theories. He also valued his personal relationships with philosophers as radically different as Martin Heidegger, a reformed Nazi sympathizer, Karl Jaspers, an advocate of collective guilt, and Gabriel Marcel, a Catholic philosopher and writer. As a psychiatrist, Frankl avoided direct reference to his personal religious beliefs. He was fond of saying that the aim of psychiatry was the healing of the soul, leaving to religion the salvation of the soul.”

I aspire to be this way – to be able to appreciate the differences in others without being personally affronted. It is a value that seems lost on personal public discourse, where being confrontational and didactic seems to be in vogue amongst the ruling class, and tolerance is viewed as weakness. But I interpret that in part as being a symptom of the Baby Boomer generation. Frankl was a part of the so-called Greatest Generation, which is mirrored by the Millennials.


“Despite a demanding schedule, Frankl also found time to take flying lessons and pursue his lifelong passion for mountain climbing. He joked that in contrast to Freud’s and Adler’s “depth psychology,” which emphasizes delving into an individual’s past and his or her unconscious instincts and desires, he practiced “height psychology,” which focuses on a person’s future and his or her conscious decisions and actions. His approach to psychotherapy stressed the importance of helping people to reach new heights of personal meaning through self-transcendence: the application of positive effort, technique, acceptance of limitations, and wise decisions. His goal was to provoke people into realizing that they could and should exercise their capacity for choice to achieve their own goals. Writing about tragic optimism, he cautioned us that “the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”
Frankl was once asked to express in one sentence the meaning of his own life. He wrote the response on paper and asked his students to guess what he had written. After some moments of quiet reflection, a student surprised Frankl by saying, “The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs.”
“That was it, exactly,” Frankl said. “Those are the very words I had written.””

So let it be written. So let it be done. Sometimes I think I should have gone into psychiatry like my father. The older I get, the more I appreciate it.

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by Dragline »

It is peculiar that a book written in 1946 would have become so popular, especially since it was really intended for a limited audience and as a personal pouring out of a recent experience. According to Wikipedia:

“The book's title in German is ...trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager, or approximately, "...to say Yes to life none the less: A psychologist experiences the concentration camps". The title of the first English language translation was From Death-Camp to Existentialism. The book's common full English title is Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, although this subtitle is often not printed on the cover of modern editions.”

What I suppose struck me about it most – maybe even before I read it – was how much it matches or even fuels ideas I see in other contexts. The central idea or model of the book is this: “Thus far we have shown that the meaning of life always changes, but that it never ceases to be. 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; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

What is profound about this is the rejection of the usual assumption that leads to endless and pointless arguments – that the “meaning” of life is necessarily a singular and universal concept to be established and that should apply to everyone in the same way. Frankl takes the Karl Jaspers approach, which is that each individual ought to discover his or her own meaning as a personal quest, but also provides some practical guidance as to how one might do it.


But I see Frankl’s model everywhere. In psychology, you need only look to our first book club selection, “Flourish” by Martin Seligman which cites this work as the source of his view that there was a “meaning” component to well-being, among four others:

• Positive emotion (of which happiness and life satisfaction are all aspects) • Engagement • Relationships • Meaning • Achievement (according to Seligman)

Yet Frankl’s model is more elegant, as it incorporates the four others into the idea of meaning: Relationships and Achievement are two ways of achieving it. Positive emotion may as well be positive attitude in the face of difficulty, or as a consequence of doing something meaningful. Engagement is just the idea that you need to do something and to be engaged means that you find the “purpose” to which you are working to be personally meaningful, as opposed to meaningful to someone else. [I also note in passing that Frankl was very likeable and generous individual, whereas Seligman is not viewed that way.]


Compare Frankl’s theory about “will to meaning” and what creates meaning with the observations from “Drive” by Dan Pink. Watch this beginning at 5:00: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc Pink essentially does Frankl in reverse – he observes from research that what motivates human beings are the concepts of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Yet Autonomy is analogous to enduring unavoidable suffering and achieving at least autonomy of thought, if not survival, Mastery is akin to creating a work or deed and Purpose as Pink discusses goes with having a meaningful experience or impact on another. Pink effectively provides the empirical data about why people do things that do not appear to be rationally motivated that validates Frankl’s theory about what someone should do to achieve meaning.


“Mastery” by Robert Greene is merely a explication of Frankl’s observation that meaning can be achieved through creative works.


How does this relate to ERE? Here is something that relates frugality to meaning that just came out the other day. Listen to this starting at 13:00: http://www.thevoluntarylife.com/2015/05 ... y-and.html It discusses how frugality serves the purpose of creating freedom so that one can do things that one finds meaningful without being enslaved to needs to satisfy outside forces financially or in other ways.


I leave the question for the group:

1. Where have you seen Frankl’s ideas, perhaps in other forms or contexts?

2. Have you run across data that would tend to refute his model? (I personally think that the Frankl model does not fit well to psychopaths, who are more accurately reflected in Adler’s “will to power” and Freud’s “will to pleasure” models – but that’s only about 4% of the population.)

3. Where do you find “meaning” in life, and does it fit into one or more of Frankl’s three categories?

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by jacob »

Dragline wins the trophy for longest post in forum history!

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by Dragline »

The second one was actually 45 characters over the 60K limit, so I had to truncate a quotation. ;)

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by Ego »

The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?”
The student replied, “It is.”
The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?”
The student replied again, “It is.”
The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.”

Added by Ego
The student then asked, “How many billable hours did Dragline charge to “VF Research” and how much was the bill?”
The Buddha extended his pinkie to the corner of his mouth and said, “A million dollars.”

More to follow.

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by jennypenny »

Dragline wrote:But I wonder why logotherapy never really took off in the treatment community where it’s a small segment. Perhaps because the medical side went more towards pharmaceuticals. Or perhaps it has really just been incorporated into cognitive behavioral therapy and related treatment regimens.
I recognize a lot of this from therapy. Usually, the therapist will start by getting a person to push off big goals like searching for meaning, and teach the patient to detach themselves from their suffering.* The therapist will set up small goals to engage the person in Frankl's #1 & #2, assuming that by the time the patient has accomplished those goals, they (the patient) will discover that they've also found some meaning in them as well.

*really to detach themselves from their fear of suffering

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by jennypenny »

I'm having trouble writing my post about the book. I don't think I completely agree with Frankl about finding meaning through suffering, but saying that I disagree with a holocaust survivor about how he found meaning through his suffering makes me feel like an ass.

Is there a specific definition for "suffering" anywhere? My Stepford neighbors consider going without A/C suffering, so it's hard to generalize. I feel like I can honestly speak about the subject, but of course, I can't begin to imagine what it was like for Frankl. Is there some line in the sand where 'struggling' becomes 'suffering'?

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by arrrrgon »

I just couldn't bring myself to read this book, so I won't comment on the book itself.

Jenny, you shouldn't worry about comparing your suffering with the suffering of others. Each and every situation is different. You can only base your responses on your own suffering, and while his suffering was surely horrible that doesn't make your suffering any less painful for you.

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by jennypenny »

arrrrgon wrote:I just couldn't bring myself to read this book, so I won't comment on the book itself.
I was apprehensive about reading the book, but it was fine. Frankl is surprisingly non-judgmental and almost detached in his writing style, so it makes it easier (as the reader) to stay somewhat detached as well.

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by Ego »

The first section of Man’s Search for Meaning is a great story about how some survived the holocaust when so many did not. Frankl’s basic premises is that you may not control everything that happens to you but, as the Buddha said in my quote above, you do control how you respond to it. That idea is very appealing. He goes on to explain that in life, suffering is inevitable and it can be used to produce meaning. Also very appealing.

Some problems I see in the book:

Frankl often conflates the various definitions of meaning and elevates God’s intended meaning (life’s expectation) as the highest form. We discussed this in other threads so I won’t belabor it other than to say that while reading I was never quite sure which “meaning” he was discussing, a reason to get out of bed or “The ultimate meaning necessarily exceeds and surpasses the finite intellectual capacities of man…” When he said, “Logos (meaning) is deeper than logic,” I got itchy.

Frankl focuses on becoming rather being. Meaning is the carrot toward which we should strive. Buddhists argue that suffering is directly caused by striving to change what is. I’m not sure I completely buy the Buddhist argument that pain is inevitable, suffering is a choice. But I can’t completely dismiss it either.

Despite those quibbles, I found the first section excellent while at the same time horrible. As someone who does not watch horror movies because I find they inhabit my mind for a time, I experienced the same thing with his stories of the camps. I dreamt of being crammed into the frozen shelves of sleeping prisoners. But I felt I could also understand and even feel the exhilaration he felt with the morsels of human kindness he gave and received. The speech he made that gave his fellow prisoners hope was the best part of the book.

The second section on Logotheapy was a sales pitch for his technique and was less compelling for someone like me who doesn’t believe in “The Super Meaning”. That’s not to say it is not useful. I found that if I stuck with my definition of meaning and breezed over the existential connotations, I got to delve into the mind of believers.

The story of the Rabbi who lost his children made me want to throw this book off a cliff.

“Is it not conceivable, Rabbi, that precisely this was the meaning of your surviving your children: that you may be purified through these years of suffering, so that finally you, too, though not innocent like your children, may become worthy of joining them in Heaven?


I am all for deluding myself if that delusion serves a positive purpose. Trouble is, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to anticipate that the Rabbi might just induce a little more suffering to ensure the purification was complete.

That’s the problem as I see it with the approach. People are given enough reasons to induce their own suffering. When we look around we see far too many people who use their martyrdom as a tool and do everything in their power to increase their own problems. Frankl’s approach is useful in that it encourages those who have suffered to reframe their past suffering. The problem lies in the suffering yet to come. By making suffering a virtue it might just perpetuate current suffering and increase future suffering.

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by Ego »

An alternative man's search for meaning...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQOfbObFOCw

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by jennypenny »

I’m still torn about the book, but I might as well just post what I’m thinking. I have some strong (mostly negative) feelings about the current obsession with finding meaning and happiness that I’ll try to keep in check. In general, I disagree with the notion that everything should have ‘meaning’ and everyone should be happy all the time (or as much as possible). People don’t seem to be searching for meaning but more meaning. I remember a comment akratic made last summer about finding projects that would continually surpass what he’s already accomplished. How on earth could anyone ever do that? I’m not trying to pick on him, just pointing out what I mean by meaning inflation.

Is suffering inherently meaningful?
I take issue with Frankl's statement that one should be "proud of his suffering." Maybe it's a translation issue, but I've heard the sentiment before and I don't like it. Frankl later wrote of "having the courage to suffer" and I like that better. I think my issue is that I don't entirely agree with Frankl's #3 that one can find meaning through suffering.

I do think that if one finds the courage to suffer, as he says, it will (1) make them stronger, and (2) dial back their expectations of what it means to live a meaningful life. A healthy person wouldn't find much meaning in taking a morning walk and then getting themselves dressed for the day. If that same person had to do it with a chemo port and low-grade morning fevers, they might find fulfillment in completing those simple activities. Does that mean the suffering is meaningful? Or is their attitude toward the suffering what brings them meaning? Or is it that, because of their suffering, they can better appreciate the ability to take a morning walk, and shower and dress themselves? I'm not sure.

One test of whether suffering is inherently meaningful is whether the people who succumb to the suffering can also be said to have found meaning in it. It’s easy to see where overcoming suffering can help a person find meaning. What if they don’t overcome it? What if they simply suffer and die? Is the suffering still meaningful?

On the flip side, I can say with certainty that any suffering we’ve experienced has had a positive effect on our family. We’ve had to dial back our own expectations and learn to appreciate everything. (For example, while many people plan their family vacations down to the smallest detail and are disappointed when it all doesn’t go as planned, we always high-five each other if we get through the entire vacation without a trip to the hospital. No kidding.) I don’t mean we’re relentlessly optimistic. We just see everything we are able to do as a net positive instead of judging our lives by what we can’t accomplish. Maybe that’s why we don’t struggle with ERE or see anything as a sacrifice.

I’ve witnessed many people who’ve done just as Frankl suggests and found meaning in their own suffering. I remember once when I was hospitalized during my pregnancy, my roommate lost her twins one night, right in the room. As I lay there the next morning still horrified at what had happened, her husband came in to sit with me. He held my hand, comforted me (me!), told me not to be afraid, and read some of his wife’s favorite bible passages. I never forgot what he did, and I’ve tried to pay it forward as much as possible.

I obviously wish that my son and I could have avoided our health problems, but we are much different people (and I think better people) because of them. I wonder if we would have found our meaning in different ways if we were healthy, though. I thought about that a lot when Frankl was talking about the prisoners who simply gave up. Would they have given up and lived meaningless lives even if there had never been a holocaust? Would someone like Frankl have found meaning another way? Maybe there are people who have a strong enough constitution to find meaning in any situation, and people who don’t, and suffering only strips away the pretense, revealing their true nature. Maybe the Frankls of the world will thrive regardless of the cards they are dealt in life.

Where does that leave me? Still on the fence, I think. I wholeheartedly agree with Frankl that all life has meaning, and suffering is a quick way to learn that lesson. Nothing gets that message across better than suddenly dropping a few levels on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Suffering can be useful in lowering our expectations wrt meaning, and for throwing into sharp relief the parts of our lives that don't bring us meaning. But while I agree that the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering is important, I think that placing too much importance on suffering can give it too big a role in our lives. I’m still not sure if suffering itself is meaningful.




Other bits from the book that weren't already mentioned ...
--“Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past.” I really like that.

--I agree with Frankl that the more limited the opportunities are for finding meaning, the more people seem to find it. Why is that?

--Frankl talked about prisoners who were willing to cross certain lines to improve their chances of survival. He said "The best of us did not return." That line haunts me a little, and not just in regard to Frankl's experience.

--Frankl goes out of his way not to judge those who simply gave up and awaited their fate. While I agree with him given the unimaginable conditions the prisoners were under, I think in most other situations I would argue that he was making excuses for them. To my mind, there's a big difference between acceptance and resignation. I can be rather unkind to people who throw up their hands in difficult situations.

--If I understood his comments regarding responsible existentialism correctly, he said that the more responsible a person is, the easier it is for them to find meaning. That made me think of current trends in society to make people less and less responsible for themselves. Does that make it harder for people to find meaning? Frankl also talked about people giving up on finding meaning and resorting to instant pleasures. That seems more true now than ever. Are the two related?

--Frankl talked about being in love and how a love interest makes the beloved "aware of their potentialities, making them come true." I don't think it necessarily has to be a romantic interest. Anyone close—extended family, good friends, mentors—can help a person see what is possible. I wonder if the disintegration of families (however you choose to define them) and social units removes some of the people in a person's life who could provide that kind of guidance in someone's search for meaning.

--His comment about intellectuals being able to retreat to their "inner riches" to withstand the conditions was interesting. I would say that people with a well-developed spiritual side would be able to do the same thing.


The Ego question ...
I've never quite decided how I feel about purposely adding what Ego calls "friction" to one's life to grow as a person. (Old thread here) I found myself thinking about it again since Frankl implies that suffering is a short-cut, if you will, to finding meaning. He (VF) does say that causing your own suffering is masochism and not what he's talking about, but is there a middle ground? Is a little suffering beyond the typical stoic self-denial a good thing? I've always argued that there's no reason to go looking for suffering because it will find you soon enough. Maybe I'm wrong about that.


End of life ...
I liked Frankl's distinction between valuing usefulness and valuing dignity in people. I'm not sure I agree that we go from having potential to having results as we age. I think we transfer that potential from ourselves to those younger than us. I find I do that now a little. I agree with Dragline that judging our lives at the end by our accomplishments might be too much pressure and score-keeping. I think the key is to keep looking forward, even if you're mostly looking forward to what others will accomplish.


Dragline's questions ...
1. Where have you seen Frankl’s ideas, perhaps in other forms or contexts?
Frankl is talking about (1) good deeds, (2) fellowship, and (3) suffering. All three are reflected in many religious texts. I was reminded of the Christian tradition to say thank you at the start of every prayer as a way to redirect a person's attitude in the midst of suffering. Gratitude journals also teach people to find meaning in each day no matter the circumstances.

2. Have you run across data that would tend to refute his model?
Part of my hesitation in finding meaning through suffering is how it can be perverted. I’ve known too many people who found meaning in the suffering, and the attention and identity it provided them. I’m thinking of people who let themselves become defined by the terrible event, and live the rest of their lives as the victim. Even if they appear to be using their experience for good, like working for [disease] awareness or social justice causes, many times the person seems dependent on the past suffering. It’s a fine line, of course, and there are people who manage to move past suffering and yet do something constructive related to it.

I also wonder if suffering (#3) isn't necessarily a path to meaning, but makes it easier to find meaning through #1 & #2.

3. Where do you find “meaning” in life, and does it fit into one or more of Frankl’s three categories?
If I were to agree with Frankl that there were 3 paths to meaning, then I'd say that the biggest meaning in my life has come from #3. I tend to find meaning in my day-to-day life through #1. I'm terrible at finding meaning through relationships if Frankl means through emotional ties only. I'm very good at supporting the people I care about through 'works' as he calls it. Not sure if that counts as #2.

Great book.

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jennypenny
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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by jennypenny »

Ego wrote: That’s the problem as I see it with the approach. People are given enough reasons to induce their own suffering. When we look around we see far too many people who use their martyrdom as a tool and do everything in their power to increase their own problems. Frankl’s approach is useful in that it encourages those who have suffered to reframe their past suffering. The problem lies in the suffering yet to come. By making suffering a virtue it might just perpetuate current suffering and increase future suffering.
This is my quibble, too, but now I think maybe we aren't reading it right. Some people will pervert their search for meaning regardless of whether it's through works, relationships, or suffering. The people work too much or have 400 friends on facebook are no different than the person who parades around in their survivor badge. I think the last one just annoys us more because of our personalities.

Now that I've gotten my thoughts down, I think Frankl is talking more about being independent and mentally separating our meaning from our suffering. Dragline touched on it here ...
Dragline wrote:Compare Frankl’s theory about “will to meaning” and what creates meaning with the observations from “Drive” by Dan Pink. Watch this beginning at 5:00: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc Pink essentially does Frankl in reverse – he observes from research that what motivates human beings are the concepts of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Yet Autonomy is analogous to enduring unavoidable suffering and achieving at least autonomy of thought, if not survival, Mastery is akin to creating a work or deed and Purpose as Pink discusses goes with having a meaningful experience or impact on another. Pink effectively provides the empirical data about why people do things that do not appear to be rationally motivated that validates Frankl’s theory about what someone should do to achieve meaning.
But if we can find meaning through 'autonomy of thought' in the face of suffering, wouldn't that extend to finding meaning through failure (#1) and through loneliness (#2)? I guess that's where I'm stuck. Is finding meaning in suffering simply the art of finding meaning in life when all else fails?

J_
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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by J_ »

Great post, my answer to Dragline's question:"Where do you find “meaning” in life, [and does it fit into one or more of Frankl’s three categories]?"

As VF states this question can only be answered for oneselve.

My "meaning" (or how I try to live) in life is: a) to keep myself in good physical and positive mental shape, b) to look around and think and do and learn, c) to give and get love.

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by henrik »

Dragline, Ego, JP, thank you for the thorough reviews and analysis. This is not the first book on this club where I think your reviews and thoughts might actually offer me more than reading the book itself:)

Dragline
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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by Dragline »

jennypenny wrote:
Ego wrote: That’s the problem as I see it with the approach. People are given enough reasons to induce their own suffering. When we look around we see far too many people who use their martyrdom as a tool and do everything in their power to increase their own problems. Frankl’s approach is useful in that it encourages those who have suffered to reframe their past suffering. The problem lies in the suffering yet to come. By making suffering a virtue it might just perpetuate current suffering and increase future suffering.
This is my quibble, too, but now I think maybe we aren't reading it right. Some people will pervert their search for meaning regardless of whether it's through works, relationships, or suffering. The people work too much or have 400 friends on facebook are no different than the person who parades around in their survivor badge. I think the last one just annoys us more because of our personalities.

Now that I've gotten my thoughts down, I think Frankl is talking more about being independent and mentally separating our meaning from our suffering. Dragline touched on it here ...
Dragline wrote:Compare Frankl’s theory about “will to meaning” and what creates meaning with the observations from “Drive” by Dan Pink. Watch this beginning at 5:00: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc Pink essentially does Frankl in reverse – he observes from research that what motivates human beings are the concepts of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Yet Autonomy is analogous to enduring unavoidable suffering and achieving at least autonomy of thought, if not survival, Mastery is akin to creating a work or deed and Purpose as Pink discusses goes with having a meaningful experience or impact on another. Pink effectively provides the empirical data about why people do things that do not appear to be rationally motivated that validates Frankl’s theory about what someone should do to achieve meaning.
But if we can find meaning through 'autonomy of thought' in the face of suffering, wouldn't that extend to finding meaning through failure (#1) and through loneliness (#2)? I guess that's where I'm stuck. Is finding meaning in suffering simply the art of finding meaning in life when all else fails?
I think VF was reasonably clear that creating or wallowing dramatically in one's suffering was not what he was talking about, but only dealing with unavoidable suffering. But I agree he doesn't really deal with the whole spectrum of possibilities or the often temporal nature of the issue.

Honestly, in this day and age in developed countries, there isn't a lot of unavoidable suffering going on in the general populace, but there is an awful lot of unnecessary drama. Sometimes I feel like there is a direct inverse correlation between the amount of actual hardship going on and what is popular in entertainment. Today we have a lot of gruesomely violent movies presented as entertainment, in which suffering is portrayed graphically and gratuitously. During the 1930s and early 40s when there was a lot more hardship, most entertainment was focused on light-hearted or feel-good topics (censorship aside).

Many types of suffering are temporal in nature and can be overcome. Things like loneliness and temporary failures would be examples of those. There is some meaning I suppose in recognizing those and taking steps to overcome them.

Yet, except for the unusual cases where people are kidnapped and held captive for years, falsely imprisoned and matters involving child abuse, almost all of the unavoidable suffering in our society is medically related, some of which can be overcome and some of which people are just stuck with. I compare a sibling who survived cancer and has been clear for almost 10 years with another who is mentally ill and won't ever get better. Each circumstance is different. Not sure what VF the therapist would say about each, but I'm not sure they neatly fall into one category.

The fact is, some people seem to get stronger from experiencing a traumatic or suffering experience, and others just become broken shells. It's still not clear to me why that is the case.


Here is an interesting recent post-script of another camp survivor who also seems to have found meaning in her experience:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morn ... azi-guard/

"The legal case against Groening revolves around the question of whether a small “cog in the machine” like a bookkeeper is responsible for the crimes the Nazis committed. Kor, who is a co-plaintiff against Groening, believes that he is. In her statement, Kor wrote that her forgiveness doesn’t absolve him of guilt. But it does grant her peace of mind.

“It is an act of self-healing, self-liberation and self-empowerment,” she said.

In a blog post for Quora, Kor said that shaking hands with Groening was a goodwill gesture. She had originally tried to talk with him on the first day of his trial in Lueneburg, Germany, but Groening fell from his chair during that encounter.

“This was not the interaction I was hoping for. I knocked out an old Nazi,” Kor wrote.

So on Thursday, she went up to him again. After shaking his hand, Kor asked Groening to make an appeal to young neo-Nazis, warning them away from Fascism and racism.

“You can tell them you were in Auschwitz, you were involved with the Nazi party, and it was a terrible thing,” she says she told him.

As she was talking to him, Groening grabbed Kor and kissed her on the cheek.

“His response to me is exactly what I was talking about when I said you cannot predict what will happen when someone from the victims’ side and someone from the perpetrators’ side meet in a spirit of humanity,” Kor said in her blog post.

Then the two hugged — something Kor hadn’t anticipated, she told the BBC. But she’s glad that the interaction happened the way it did.

“I am not a poor person,” she said. “I am a victorious human being.”"

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by Ego »

jennypenny wrote: I've never quite decided how I feel about purposely adding what Ego calls "friction" to one's life to grow as a person. (Old thread here) I found myself thinking about it again since Frankl implies that suffering is a short-cut, if you will, to finding meaning. He (VF) does say that causing your own suffering is masochism and not what he's talking about, but is there a middle ground? Is a little suffering beyond the typical stoic self-denial a good thing? I've always argued that there's no reason to go looking for suffering because it will find you soon enough. Maybe I'm wrong about that.
Maybe analogous to exercise.... just enough to provoke positive change but not so much that it causes damage. But then again, one of Frankl's points is that even the most horrible suffering can produce meaning.
Dragline wrote:
The fact is, some people seem to get stronger from experiencing a traumatic or suffering experience, and others just become broken shells. It's still not clear to me why that is the case.
Sometimes I think it is all mindset, the way people choose to look at things. But then I find it hard to say with certainty that anyone has control over how they decide to look at things. Whenever I get to the point where it seems someone uses agency to make a choice, I ask myself how they became that person who made that particular choice and realize that it can be traced backward to prior causes. Each moment dependent on previous experiences, genes, biology and other natural forces, further and further back until finally we reach that first choice which must be the result of forces beyond their control.

Jacob mentioned in another thread about how resilience can be taught. I wonder if we were somehow very fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time to learn it.

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by riparian »

You're reading the best books. I loved Frankl ten years ago so much, but now I disagree with him on many of the details. If you're interested in how and why people construct meaning, Coming to Narrative is a great book. I also appreciated The Art and Science of Narrative Psychiatry for mucking around in meaning.

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Re: BC #12: "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Post by leeholsen »

dragline, if you like that; I would recommend Hazlitt's(he's a late 50's economist) foundations or morality. it's a book that goes thru a lot of the great thinkers and different thoughts and theories on morality and manners.

maybe Hazlitt is no great thinker, but he's a favorite of mind.

you might also read bloodlands if you want a history of the cruelties generally around Poland between hitler and stalin.

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