This is a famous book written by Victor Frankl which outlines his experience living in the concentration camp during the Holocaust. And this experience helped him developed his theories on logotherapy.
I am sure most of you have heard and understood what a psychoanalysis therapy is. To explain what logotherapy is, I find it easier to just compare the both below:
- Psychoanalysis Therapy – During psychoanalysis, a patient must lie down on a couch and tell you things which sometimes are very disagreeable to tell.
- Logotherapy – In logotherapy, the patient remains sitting erect, but they must hear things which are sometimes very disagreeable to hear.
Feudian’s Psychoanalysis is centred on the will to pleasure. Frankl’s logotherapy is centred on the will for purpose and meaning i.e. the focus is more on the future in finding meanings and purpose for patients.
The 1st half of this book outlines his ideas of meaning.
What is the meaning of life?
We all wish there was a magical answer like 42 in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. However, no one can tell what their purpose in life is. Each must find it for themselves. Some find meaning in their children who live far away. Some find meaning in a book that they are working on. Basically, one will find meaning in a cause greater than oneself.
He recounted when he was digging the soil one day and he became tired and nearly lost all hope of living, he started thinking about his wife who he loved dearly. He then started talking to her (even when she was not physically next to him). This is when he saw the truth.
Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which a man can aspire to.
Like any poets or song-writers, who have been banging on about romantic love for centuries, he learnt that love goes far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being. The conversation with his wife, dead or alive, helped him find a refuge from the emptiness of his existence.
Other than establishing the importance of finding a meaning in one’s life, Frankl went onto discussing about our free will. Or, our freedom to become who we want to be.
“When one is stripped away their familiar goals in life, what always remains is the last of human freedom i.e. the freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
However, not everyone chooses to be good. During his time in the concentration camp, he was watching how some of his friends behaved like swine while others behaved like saints.
When one is ignorant and still living in their past, they have no reason to be good as they think their action is of no consequence. Life becomes meaningless for them, doesn’t it?
The 2nd half of this book introduces his idea of logotherapy.
“One of the basic tenets of logotherapy is that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure and avoid pain at all cost. But rather to see a meaning in their life.”
Frankl gave one example when he practised logotherapy on one of his patients. She was a woman with 2 sons. One died from an accident, the other one is still alive but handicapped. When she tried to commit suicide with him, he stopped her. He wanted to live. So Frankl asked himself why her son has a will to live, but not her? How can he make her realize her meaning in life?
So he asked her to imagine when she’s 80 year old and lying on her deathbed, and then look back over her life. She then went on about how one of her sons died but her other son was still alive. And how she had tried her best and made him a better human being. At that moment she described it, she cried. She found her meaning in life.
Frankl’s experience at the camp led him to conclude that man’s nature or condition is not pre-determined. Instead, it changes depending on their choice.
“Man does not simply exist but always decides what their existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.”
We have been told again and again, we have the freedom to choose who we want to be at any given moment i.e. we are faced with a set of circumstances every day, in which we choose to either be a victim or a learner. But this freedom is meaningless if our choice is irresponsible to people around us, to our environment and to our society.
So Frankl famously suggested:
Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, 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.
Great power comes with great responsibility!