Andrew James Lodge MD

Further thoughts on Man’s Search for Meaning

Andrew James Lodge MD wrote an earlier blog post about my initial impressions of Man’s Search for Meaning, a book written by Victor Frankl who was a psychiatrist and survivor of several concentration camps during World War II. He found the book to be impactful for several reasons, not the least of which was that Frankl seemed to be a thinker ahead of his time. This post contains some of the collected wisdom from the book and Andrew Lodge’s thoughts on Frankl’s observations.

Much of Man’s Search for Meaning centers on the trials and suffering of the Nazi concentration camp prisoners and their responses to it. Frankl’s assertion related to this was that if there was in fact a meaning to be found in life, then suffering itself must have a meaning because in life, suffering is unavoidable. Every human being will encounter some type of suffering during his or her life, be it the loss of a job or a loved one, severe illness, a devastating accident, or some other misery. One of the central tenets of his book is that everything can be taken from a man (or woman) except for one thing. That one thing is the choice of how one responds to one’s circumstances. This is summed up in the following excerpt from the book: “The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified, and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation, he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.” Frankl states that this freedom of choice is always present, but in no way implies that the choice is necessarily easy. He himself observed far more prisoners give in to the suffering than to overcome it. It is, however, those that overcome that inspire us.

So how does one overcome the difficulties he or she faces to find meaning? Frankl quotes the philosopher Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”. He points out that of all beings, humans are distinguished by their ability to look into the future. Therefore, in order to overcome adversity, we must be able to look into the future to find meaning in something desirable that we have not yet achieved, in a relationship with another person, or even in the manner in which we endure the hardship itself. Why do so many struggle with this? Frankl introduces the concept of the existential vacuum, a sort of ennui that is enabled to a large extent by the increasing conveniences of society. This is another concept which demonstrates what prescient thinker Frankl was. Sixty years ago, he wrote “Automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.” Hence the worsening of the existential vacuum. Imagine what poor Dr. Frankl would think of automation if he were alive in 2022!

According to Andrew Lodge, Man’s Search for Meaning tell us that human beings must rise above their fears and suffering to actualize themselves, to reach their full potential. Man is self-determining. What one becomes depends upon decisions, not conditions. Frankl says that meaning and happiness cannot simply be pursued, they must ensue from one’s decisions and actions. In other words, happiness and meaning do not simply happen, but rather result from choices that one makes. The reader is left with a final reflection which, again, was written by someone from a prior generation, and that is that “for the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best”. For the relatively entitled society of the 2020’s, Andrew Lodge believes this is food for thought indeed.

By Andrew Lodge MD

Andrew James Lodge MD