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Friday, January 19, 2018

Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist, and author of Man's Search for Meaning, as he appeared in 1964, which was 19 years after his liberation from a Nazi concentration camp. He died in 1997, at the age of 92.

Photo by Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15153593

While I don't agree with all of his ideas, Viktor Frankl offers profound insights regarding meaning. 

Frankl maintained: "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."

Frankl's opportunity to implement his "concrete assignment which demanded fulfillment" came in 4 Nazi concentration camps during World War II. These camps taught Frankl to focus on internal attitudes, since he was powerless to change his external circumstances. Frankl was able to bring great meaning to the most miserable conditions. Helping others to do this became his life-mission.  

"Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost...What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, 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." [Emphasis by Frankl]

As for "what life expected from us," Frankl meant the responsibilities we all have as co-participants in life. He later wrote: 

"Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibilities. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by the Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast." [Emphasis by Frankl]

So great was Frankl's sense of responsibility that he sidestepped a plan to escape with a friend, so he could remain to help others. "I did not know what the following days would bring," he wrote, "but I had gained an inward peace that I had never experienced before."

Shortly after his liberation, Frankl walked for miles through the countryside. "I stopped, looked around, and up to the sky," he attested, "and then I went down on my knees." He had just one thought in mind: "I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space." 

Frankl concluded his concentration camp account with: "The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more--except his God."