This post is a travel diary as well as a collection of quotes from Viktor Frankl‘s book Man’s Search for Meaning. I was reading this book while on a girls’ weekend in Nice, France. Despite being surrounded by azure Mediterranean sea and carefree palms, reading lessons from concentration camp was not an easy task to do.
On the other hand, I am grateful to have read the book now, sooner than later. I have long struggled to understand meaning of unnecessary suffering that I observed around me lately. This book has just addressed that for me even though written more than 70 years ago. The author, Jewish psychiatrist Frankl, survived holocaust thanks to the love for his wife. He imagined speaking to her and hearing her voice in his mind many times during the time he was in Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps. Read my favorite quotes below.
“We had to learn ourselves and 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. Life ultimately means taking responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
“I doubt whether a doctor can answer this question in general terms. For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. 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. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”
“… often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself. Instead of taking the camp’s difficulties as a test of their inner strength, they did not take their life seriously… Yet, in reality there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate as did a majority of the prisoners.“
“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.”
“The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent.”
“In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom.“
“… 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.”
“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.”
“But let me make it perfectly clear that in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering – provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.”
I have finished reading this precious book after coming back from Nice. I would like to reread it couple of times in the future, to “sink in” all the wisdom. Certainly, this post will be a nice memory of both the trip and the book.