Man’s search for Meaning

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“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”Nietzsche

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. – Nietzsche

There are no factsonly interpretations Nietzsche

He who cannot obey himself will be commanded. That is the nature of living creatures. – Nietzsche

“Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it” –  Dan Dennett

Truth is so much more than facts.

 “It’s impossible,” said pride. “It’s risky,” said experience. “It’s pointless,” said reason. “Give it a try,” whispered the heart.  Unknown

Just completed reading the book by Dr. Viktor Frankl – a world-renowned doctor by profession and survivor of the holocaust. He’s the “Father of logotherapy”, a school of psychoanalysis.

Words do not do justice to how it has touched the inner recesses of my mind.  I have always thought of a transcendental reason for human existence, but this book crystallized my ideas.Dr. Frankl presents an account of the experiences in the concentration camp in a manner that doesn’t evoke pity or sympathy but an appreciation of what it takes to go through life’s suffering. And in the process, he teaches profound life-lessons that seek to give life a meaning, a purpose.

Here are a few takeaways and excerpts from the book – in fact, I read one in a long time and couldn’t stop once I started. Few paragraphs are replicated here as-is with the hope that it might help somebody someday.

1. I shall never forget how I was roused one night by the groans of a fellow prisoner who threw himself about in his sleep, obviously having a horrible nightmare. Since I had always been especially sorry for people who suffered from fearful dreams or deliria, I wanted to wake the poor man. Suddenly I drew back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do. At that moment I became intensely conscious of the fact that no dream, no matter how horrible could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us, and to which I was about to recall him.

2.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 circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

3. We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as being questioned by life. 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.

4. 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.

5. No one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them.

6. “Existential vacuum” –

The feeling of the total and ultimate meaninglessness of their lives. They lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for.They are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves. No instinct tells him what he has to do. 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)

7. “Meaning of Life”

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. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion:

“Tell me Master, what is the best move in the world?”

There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent. The same holds for human existence.

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 his specific opportunity to implement it.

8. We can discover the meaning of life in 3 different ways –

a. By creating a work or doing a deed

b. by experiencing something or encountering someone.

c. by the attitude we take to unavoidable suffering.

The first, the way of acheivement or accomplishment is quite obvious. The second and third ways need  further elaboration.

The second way of finding a meaning in life is by experiencing something – such as goodness, truth and beauty- by experiencing nature and culture or, last but not least, by experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness – by loving him. Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him.

The third way of finding a meaning in life is by suffering.

In some way, Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice. Man’s main concern  is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer , on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.

Let me make it 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. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.

9. A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment – he has made out of himself. Man has both potentialities within himself – to behave as a swine or to behave as a saint; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.

10. We have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Aushwitz; however he is also that being who entered the gas chambers upright, with the lords prayer on his lips.

~~~ Amen ~~~


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