Mans_search_for_meaningI came across umpteen references to this book from various sources, my friends, my mentors, other popular books. Jim collins mentioned in his book, fast company and business 2 also mention this as a must have on any body’s book shelf, seth godin,avc, also give an abundant praise ..a whole host of people seem to be fascinated by the content of the book.

Last weekend I managed to lay my hands on to this book.I was little skeptical to begin with as any over hyped book always dampens the expectations. However Viktor Frankl book’s exceeded my expectations by all standards.

Its a classic raconteur of the author who spends 3 years at a Auschwitz, a concentration camp during World war II. The central premise of the book is that life has a certain meaning and it is important to understand that life expects something from us rather than the common notion of we expecting something from life. Frankl is fond of quoting Nietzsche

"He who has a WHY to live can bear with almost any HOW"

In the preface , the author advices :

"Don’t aim at success.The more you aim at it and the more you make it a target, the more you are going to miss it.For success, like happiness cannot be pursued.It must ensue, and it must as a side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than one self or the by-product of the surrender to a person other than oneself."

The book is divided in to 2 parts, the first part dealing with the frankl’s experiences in the concentration camp, the other dealing with logo therapy and its philosophical implications.

In the first part, author tries to narrate experiences about three phases of any prisoner’s life. First phase , the period following his admission, Second phase, the period where he is entrenched in to the prison environment and third phase the period when he is liberated. The first phase is characterised by fear , a delusional reprieve symptom where the prisoner somehow thinks he will not go through the gas chambers, that somehow he will escape the punishments, that somehow he will find a way to escape before he is sent to the camp. However this is met with terrible disappointment for people who have these delusions.
The second phase is characterised by a deep sense of apathy where prisoners lose a sense of living and resign to the fate and go through all the horrors of the camp.

The camp life comprised prisoners thinking about food and life all the time, considering the inhuman conditions. Prisoners used Humor to get thr the odd conditions. Some people dwelled on the past to get thr camp life. However the people who survived the camp were people who accepted the camp life and tried capitalizing on the opportunities that camp life could provide them. Which means, there is one thing which man can do under any horrendous conditions – the ability to choose one’s attitude given certain circumstances. There were also people who lived under the naive hope that the war would end on a specific date, by christmas, that they would be out by some date, that there would be some event after which they would be liberated men. When such events did not happen, they broke down and infact the author describes a sudden change in their behavior and they give it up and deliberately move to the gased chambers.

The survivors actually developed a healthy sense of realism and utilized all the opportunities and looked at suffering as a task from which there could be some meaning for every individual.

The third phase of the prisoner’s life is symptomatic with disillusionment, bitterness and moral deformity. Again these traits are evident if the prisoner had not gone through the suffering and tried to make meaning out of it. Those who live day dreaming and come in contact with liberty , cannot face liberty in its totality. They are still plagued with the old problems.

To summarize the first part of the book, the take away is that :

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears towards human being who affectionately wait for, or to an unfinished task, will never be able to throw away his life. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

The second part of the book talks about logotherapy , which believes that " to find a meaning in one’s life is the true motivational force in a man". According to Logotherapy,we can discover meaning in one’s life

  • by creating a work or doing a deed
  • by experiencing something or encountering someone
  • by the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering

There are so many facets to logotherapy that a man can learn and use in his life , that I cant summarize in one post .However an analogy at the end might summarize what logotherapy has got to offer :

"Consider a movie:It consists of thousands upon thousands of individual pictures, and each of them makes sense and carries a meaning, yet the meaning of the entire film cannot be seen until the last scene.However we cannot understand the significance of the last sequence unless we have seen all the components of the movie.

Life is also like this :Life’s final meaning is revealed only at the end at the time of death. However this final meaning too depends on whether or not the potential meaning of each of the single situation has been actualized to the man’s knowledge and belief "

A Great book indeed and I have definitely become richer by reading and pondering over the thoughts suggested by Frankl. If some one asks me , how will I survive the margin pressures from the fellow competitors, how will I survive market fluctuations for my business, I will have one definite answer – "Victor Frankl".