Frankl does not use the word “meaning” in the general broad sense such as in “What is the meaning of life? ” but rather in a more specific way of “what is the meaning of your life”. In Frankl’s words, asking the meaning of life is akin to asking the chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world? ” (pg 131) There is no “correct” answer to this question, as the best move is dependent on your opponent, the moves already made, and the moves to be made…. Much the same as saying there is no correct answer to the question “What is the meaning of life?
” as the meaning of life changes from person to person and from moment to moment. Frankl demonstrates how his meaning of life changed as noted that one morning as he marched to work he came to a sudden realization that “The salvation of man is through love and in love. ” (pg 57) I think that Frankl’s realization is meant to illustrate how even in the darkest of times, meaning can be found in suffering and 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.
” (pg 86) Frankl chose to focus on his love – his love for his wife, his love for life which brought meaning to the torture he was enduring. Frankl does not preach what he believes the meaning of life is, but instead tries to help us to see the truth for ourselves through his illustrations of human suffering and triumph. The analogy of the Painter vs. the Ophthalmologist on page 132 reflects Frankl’s core discipline. “A painter tries to convey to us a picture of the world as he sees it; and ophthalmologist tries to enable us to see the world as it really is.
” Frankl tries to help us to see with our own eyes; he cannot show us the truth but can only try and help us discover it for ourselves. In Frankl’s own case, he was able to find his purpose which was to document what he had learned about mankind while suffering in a concentration camp. He did so as to help others understand their responsibility in defining their life; and how by being responsible, we can define life’s meaning every day. Frankl illustrates man taking responsibility for his own life in his account of fellow inmates.
“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. ” (pg 86)These men chose to give meaning to their life by improving the lives of those around them, even in the face of certain death if discovered.
They chose even while surrounded by unimaginable horror to place the wellbeing of their fellow inmates above their own. Frankl defines this behavior as “The self-transcendence of human existence”. (pg 133) It means that being human is about going beyond you own self needs. He says “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. “(pg 133) His illustrations of the inmates who gave the last of their bread or tried to comfort those around him are surely examples of self-transcendence.
I can relate to this line of thinking as I reflect on those people in my life I most respect; they are those friends and family whom I consider selfless – individuals who give of themselves. This philosophy can even be translated to business. The most successful business men I know are individual who learned at an early stage that giving of themselves, through writing, speaking, or being involved in their community ultimately reaped the greatest rewards, closed the most business, etc… While these individual have an agenda (vs.
being truly selfless), I still believe they are practicing self-transcendence. They are, as Frankl states, discovering 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. ” (pg 133) They choose to interact with the people and the world around them rather than retreat into themselves. Frankl compares a closed system to an open system as a way of explaining how human interaction leads to self-transcendence, while self-actualization is a false way of finding meaning.
A closed system cannot change or grow; it by definition must maintain equilibrium. An open system on the other hand exists such that we interact with each other and the outside world. Through our interactions with one another, growth is stimulated within ourselves and those around us. In a closed system we would retreat from the world and isolate ourselves. While doing this might bring a certain amount of inner peace, it does not stimulate growth. We cannot improve ourselves and the world around us in this way because it is too self-serving.
That’s not to say that self reflection is a bad thing, but rather that self-reflection loses its meaning unless you have something to reflect against – another philosophy, the meaning of an event in your life, etc… Self-reflection for the sake of self-reflection would produce no personal growth in Frankl’s view. In conclusion, I think that Frankl’s life experiences helped shape someone who at his core was a realist. You cannot always change the situation, so if you want a different outcome, you must change your reaction.
Sometimes horrible things happen to a person; that is life. How you choose to respond to the circumstances surrounding you is your most basic privilege as an intelligent human being. I love the fact that Frankl offers no real answers, just a framework for figuring it out for yourself. I hope to learn more about Frankl and try to apply more of his “take responsibility” attitude to my everyday life. I have already started by going back to school to finish my degree.
Courtney from Study Moose
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