“Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake”
Confession: about two years ago, I finished university and was feeling a little lost. I picked up this highly recommended book and found myself feeling a little less out-of-place in the world when I was done. To say that it was helpful to me would be a massive understatement. I decided recently that I could do with that kind of boost again, so returned to it and felt like it had even more to offer.
“Now, in logotherapy the patient may remain sitting erect but he must hear things which sometimes are very disagreeable to hear.”
Though this is an impossible book to review, I thought it might be a valuable experience to share some of the lessons I learnt while reading it. For a little background, this book is split into two halves- the first being Frankl’s experience in the Holocaust and the second half being how to utilise his practice of Logotherapy to find meaning in life. But do not let that quick synopsis mislead you- this is not a despairing work- there is no book more uplifting on the planet. So without further ado, here are some of the things that struck me this time round:
“Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire”
- You must have a future or you will not have a present. There is a lot about the importance of hope in this book. Frankl talks on more than one occasion about how the loss of life in the camps frequently came down to people losing hope. One of Frankl’s most vivid messages is to hold onto the idea of love- not just the person, but the emotion. Love is integral to his message of hope for the future. For what is love if it is not the embodiment of hope?
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
- Meaning comes from struggle. Frankl speaks of the existential vacuum that arises from having too easy a life. For me, this speaks of how boredom is bad for the soul. While people may desire a constant state of rest, it’s like wood wanting a lower energy state- if you burn it to ash it loses all potential. There is no real value in having nothing to strive for.
“if pain and suffering is avoidable, then avoid it!”
- But for goodness sake- don’t go looking for trouble! To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic not heroic.
“Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”
- Life cannot be meaningful without responsibility. It is very tempting to lay responsibility elsewhere and a lot of people when faced with a struggle cannot take responsibility for their own suffering or refuse to try and fix it themselves. This is a mistake. If personal growth is found in struggling, then to pass the responsibility off somewhere else will make one’s life very meaningless indeed. Therefore, everyone is “responsible to society or his own conscience”.
“Man has potential to be swine or saint, monster or martyr”
- Resentment won’t get you anywhere. There is an incredible part of the book when Frankl rejects the idea of collective guilt. It shows how important it is not to hold people accountable for crimes they did not commit. And if a holocaust survivor can reject the idea of “guilt by association”, it proves that there is never any justice in it. I also felt like there was a really clear illustration of the deep-seated resentment that drove the Nazis in a story Frankl tells about how a guard beat him when Frankl says he had been a therapist for poor people before the war- when confronted with someone who had done such fulfilling work with their life, an Auschwitz guard has no other options but to beat the prisoner, because how else can he be reconciled with himself? (incidentally proving Dr Jordan Peterson’s theory about resentment of being lying at the root of much of the world’s evil) Someone filled with so much darkness can only try to snuff out what remains of the light
“saying yes to life in spite of everything”
- And lastly… don’t take yourself too seriously! Frankl describes how one cure for neurosis is for the patient to learn to laugh at themselves. But this can be applied more broadly- especially since he talks about how people relied on humour to get through Auschwitz. And what is a better target for humour than ourselves?
“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.”
Alright, this post was a little different, but I hoped you liked it.
Of course, it goes without saying that this book gets 5/5 bananas:
Have you read this book? Do you feel inspired to give it a go? Let me know in the comments!