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Man’s Search for Meaning

Book Review

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I am reading Tim Ferris’s new book, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World.  In the book, Tim interviews professionals in diverse industries, with diverse backgrounds who have notable achievements.  Among other questions, interviewees were asked “What is the book or books you’ve given most as a gift and why?  Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life? A book cited often was Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

While still plowing through the middle of almost 600 pages of Ferris’s book, and with limited knowledge of Frankl or his book I decided to acquire the audible version of Man’s Search for Meaning.  I was stunned by the authentic voice of pain, suffering, loss, hope, and survival.  I quickly finished listening and then re-listened again.  When done I read the digital summary which was unfulfilling and finally I purchased a digital copy of the book.  Why? Because like pieces of a puzzle Frankl literally gives meaning to life – the will to meaning.

While it was humbling to hear the autobiography of this Professor of neurology and psychiatry who experienced and survived life in four Nazi concentration camps what was truly inspirational was his theories of tragic optimism and self-determination.  Frankl gives the term, “mind over matter” new meaning.  Those who can envision the future while experiencing a past or present that is different can find meaning (and make choices) that re-defines their personal destiny’s.

Of special note was Frankl’s expressions of the importance of the difference of man’s character in the face of similar human conditions:

            In Auschwitz, the individual differences did not blur, but on the contrary, people became more diferent; people unmasked themselves, both the swine and the saints.

What is especially disturbing is Frankl’s prognosis that many in society suffer existential vacuum – a feeling of meaninglessness.  Frankl infers that we are educating our youth to be productive in society yet an existential vacuum would suggest that productivity does not necessarily fulfill the soul.   Frankl speaks of the coming age of innovation and automation that will yield more leisure (and unemployment) yet the existential vacuum created will not yield increased satisfaction.  Frankl’s focus on unemployment related existential among youth can be devastating leading to addiction, depression, and aggression.  Frankl presents evidence that many youths are searching for meaning; he gives an example of an officer who was productive but once he transitioned to a career that was aligned to his personal values it led to inner peace and a more fulfilled life.  

Should we re-evaluate our educational system?  Masses of educated youth globally are unemployed and may suffer from unemployment neurosis…. where the inability to be employed translates to a meaningless life. Should we be preparing students to find their life’s work – yielding a life of passion and contribution – a transformation to self-actualization? We must! In the closing lines of his text, Frankl warns us as only one who survived the horrors of multiple concentration camps and found meaning in his life to help others find meaning in theirs:

For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best. …. Since Auschwitz, we know what man is capable of.  And since Hiroshima, we know what is at stake.

Doing our best translates to yielding to the inner soul, celebrating our differences, and exploring the will to meaning in each chapter of life until the inevitable death.  Then and only then can the future be optimum.

As 2020 comes to a close, it is a time for reflection, memories, and renewed hope in the future.

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