Last year I visited a psychiatrist. He told me some mumbo jumbo about me having unresolved issues, and then said he was going to help me work through them. Ha! That’s rich coming from someone who looks like my stepfather. The quack then charged me a hundred and fifty dollars for the one-hour session! I had nary a penny to my name after that exorbitant fee plus the two hundred and thirty I had forked out for the briefcase (I was afraid people seeing me walk into a shrink’s office would think I was crazy, so I carried a briefcase to my appointment. That way, people would think I was the psychiatrist. Who’s crazy now?). Anyway, upon learning that Viktor Frankl was a psychiartrist, I was understandably sceptical about reading his book. I was to be pleasantly surprised.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl recounts his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Rather than focusing on the physical cruelty inflicted on the inmates (which had already been well documented by others), he looks more at the resulting psychological toll. Through his eyes we get a unique view of the war’s unimaginable horrors, as captives come to terms with the daily threat of death, a prison sentence with no known release date, and being treated as other than human, all the while trying to find some reason to keep going. Frankl relates two instances when men were prevented from committing suicide: one man was reminded that he had a child who was counting on him to return home, and the other that he had begun important scientific work before the war that only he could complete. Through that experience and many others, Frankl finds that it is hope for the future and realising a purpose beyond one’s self that gives people a reason to go on. Man needs meaning.
Two main feelings struck me as I read this short but powerful book. One was gratitude, gratitude for being spared the suffering that so many others have endured. Those prisoners were tortured physically and emotionally, and separated from their families. Compared to them I have nothing to complain about. I also felt encouragement. If men in such a truly hopeless situation could find the strength to hope, then surely I can adopt a more positive outlook for my own future.
I usually review fiction, but Man’s Search for Meaning was too significant to not recommend. It’s a sobering glimpse of our history and nature, but the lesson is uplifting, and unforgettable. 9/10
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