Book review: Man’s search for meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

I was once at a lecture given by a survivor of the Holocaust. He was unwell, but took the time to come and speak to us. At one point he revealed that having been separated from his family (he was a child at the time), all he had left for comfort was his teddy bear. As he was being put on a truck, a guard took his teddy bear away from him and tore it up. He teared up when he spoke about it. It was humbling to hear him so generously share his story of survival in the hope that people would show compassion and courage and never let cruelty prevail.

Viktor Frankl’s book called ‘Man’s search for meaning’ has been widely referenced, reviewed and read. In fact, this is more my own personal reflection of the book rather than an actual review.

I revisited the book recently to see if my perspective on the world and the interpretive lens I use to understand life had shifted. It was through reading Frankl’s book when I was younger that I made a choice to focus on acts of love regardless of what I was confronted by.

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Viktor Frankl’s writing demonstrates the range of human emotions that are experienced under inhumane conditions. People have used his theories, to get through torturous conditions. Logotherapy (meaning therapy) is something that Frankl was working on before he was sent to a concentration camp. He continued to develop his theory – that life holds meaning regardless of one’s circumstances – while living through the daily cruelty of the people in charge of the concentration camp. At one point he talks about running into the wire – suicide by electrocution – but opts against it, choosing instead to focus on what he can control. In another segment of the book he talks about holding the image of love (his wife) in his mind to get through what was happening to him. To me the book is a testament to love, hope and inner freedom. But it is also a reflection of Frankl himself, and the way he was able to circumvent the immediate, and focus on clear thought processes to help himself and others. Even in the situation he was in, Frankl took the time to help those around him. This is not a book for cynics.

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