First reading: May 2014 review
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is part memoir, part manifesto tackling the existential question of human life and why it matters. The message resonates with Frankl’s Yes to Life, but this longer work expands on his points with heartrending examples from his experiences in concentration camps. Though the main focus is valuing one’s own life, the book also challenges us to value other people’s lives, including those of our enemies.
Frankl’s strength as an advice-giver rests in two things: 1) a lack of self-consciousness in offering “self-help”, and 2) a persuasiveness founded on his real-world experiences, both as a doctor and a survivor of the Holocaust. He understands the despair a person feels when they think they have no future. Inverting the dilemma, Frankl calls the reader to ask not what they expect from life or even what happiness to look forward to, but instead, what does life expect from us at any given moment? There is meaning in any and every moment, because our meaning, wrote Frankl, is derived from our attitude towards life, including extreme suffering and hardship. Our suffering is individual and unique, and so our calling, our response to it, is also unique. From a Christian perspective, substitute God for “life” as the Person who awaits your response to all possibilities, and you find your place in the world.
Interwoven in this are themes of personal responsibility, forgiveness, and the sanctity of life. There are some dated passages, but overall this book is extremely relevant, especially for 2020.