Man's Search for Meaning. A Testament to Human Resilience.
Updated: Apr 5, 2021
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I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of finding a deeper, underlying meaning for suffering.
While, certainly, not everyone eventually finds a meaning to justify why they suffer, literature, however, is full of heroic stories of people who, even whilst confronted by the shadows of horrific death, chose to believe in the resilience of their spirit, which eventually led them to transcend their reality into a state of spiritual and mental liberation.
There’s a level of undivided beauty, brilliance and heroism that can be felt by the choices we make under challenging circumstances. While just as we’re about to render life meaningless and give up, we make a conscious choice, instead, to embrace the reality of life and to choose to hold on a little longer. We choose to wear our suffering with a sense of dignity and uprightness and pride.
To commemorate the resilience of the human spirit, I included some of my favorite words from Dr. Viktor Frankl’s book, "Man’s Search for Meaning", which I have just finished reading, in which he draws on his own experience both as a Psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor.
The book is a profound testament to the beauty, optimism and freedom that humans have the capacity to conjure in the despair of horrific circumstances. It stands witness to the reality that while we may not always have control to choose our conditions, but we have the choice, every hour of every day, to react differently to the circumstances that destiny puts us through. And that in itself is a level of undivided spiritual freedom that no amount of suffering in the world can ever take away from us.
“For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth - that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
“In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way - an honorable way - in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.”
“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.”
“But if I had to die there might at least be some sense in my death. I thought that it would doubtless be more to the purpose to try and help my comrades as a doctor than to vegetate or finally lose my life as the unproductive laborer that I was then.”
“The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.”
“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.”
“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity - even under the most difficult circumstances - to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.”
“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. 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. 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.”
“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.”
“Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those depths we again found human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil?”