Man’s Search for Meaning
This is an astonishing book that you must read. Victor Frankl was a Jewish Austrian Psychiatrist imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps including Auschwitz during the Second World War.
The book begins with the remarkable biographical story of life in the concentration camp in conditions that are scarcely imaginable and where the prospects for survival were bleak. The second half of the book takes these experiences and their understanding as the basis for development of what Frankl called Logotherapy. At its heart is a belief that striving to find a meaning to ones life is the primary motivational force within people. This may be contrasted with striving for pleasure, or striving for power which are respectively at the heart of Freudian and Adlerian psychology.
The description of life in the concentration camp is chilling in what it describes but this appears multiplied by the manner of the description. The narrative is largely free of gruesome details and uses simple matter of fact language to convey and amplify the all enveloping abject awfulness of the situation faced by those imprisoned. They are described as having been transported into an incredible and inexplicable world where every normality is replaced by ever present abnormality. Yet in this utterly abnormal world we see there is space for the acts of saints as well as demons.
It is a book which provides insights into the nature of life and meaning and thus should be read by all. If its relevance to those involved in change needs to be stated, for me it is captured in clear imagery that life in the concentration camp which removed so much from the inmates, was denied removing one crucial thing, described thus:-
In the concentration camp every circumstances conspires to make the prisoner lose his hold. All the familiar goals in life are snatched away. What alone remains is “the last of human freedoms” – the ability “to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances”.
It is this choosing of attitude that sits at the heart of the inmate’s ability to survive, for those that did survive are characterised by having a clear vision, a clear imperative that they must survive for they have work yet to be done.
When so much effort directed at change focuses on what to do and how, Frankl powerfully quotes the words of Nietzsche
‘He who has a why to live, can bear with almost any how’.
I highly recommend this book as one that will change your perspective on what people and organisations can achieve and the incredible importance of establishing meaning; of answering the question ‘why?’
February 11 2005
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