the search for meaning

Posted on November 19, 2008



“Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.”

No matter how much adversity and pain we are going through, there is always someone that has experienced much much worse. These people can bring us new ways of seeing; new perspectives on life, meaning, pain, and joy. From them we can learn to celebrate life and the grace that has been bestowed upon us.

Victor Frankl is a WW2 Nazi concentration camp survivor. His book, Man’s Search for Meaning (not for the faint of heart), describes in gruesome detail the incredible internal struggle of finding a reason for simply opening one’s eyes for another day. A very humbling read from the comfort of our American easy chairs. It makes our daily complaints seem quite trivial.

“This story is not about the suffering and death of great heroes and martyrs, ….Thus it is not so much concerned with the sufferings of the mighty, but with sacrifices, the crucifixion and the deaths of the great army of unknown and unrecorded victims.” Viktor E. Frankl

From the depths of a concentration camp he brings us what give life meaning.
1. All things can be taken from us except for one thing, our freedom to choose how we respond to life.
2. All people are here with a purpose greater than ourselves. Life requires each of us to find and follow this mission, which can only be found within.

“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…”

Victor Frankl, Auschwitz survivor

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. 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 is love.”

“The meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected.” p.157

“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.””

“What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general, but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” p.171

“We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by doing a deed; (2) by experiencing a value; and (3) by suffering.” p.176

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

For more, please see this video: 

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