The Human Meaning of Life - Reflection
By Shinedip Kundlas
Volume 3 Issue 2
December 23, 2022
Image provided by Irina Koryagina
I had the absolute privilege to read Viktor Frankl’s memoir Man’s Search for Meaning. Through his experiences in the Holocaust and concentration camps, there is validity and appropriateness to Viktor Frankl's assertion that man can find meaning in all life experiences. Life's meaning gives structure and purpose to a person's existence since definition gives their lives a sense of purpose. The fact remains that humans are the only organisms able to put their lives in perspective and find meaning and validity in them. We are wired to want meaning and purpose in life, and it is an inherent part of our nature and temperament.
The meaning of life differs from person to person, day to day, and hour to hour. Life's meaning does not depend on what it means in general, but on what it means to a person at the time. Frankl connects this to a chess competition, unless one has a particular situation in a game and an opponent with a specific personality, there is no best or even good move. In the same way, human existence follows this principle. An individual should not search for a conceptual meaning of the existence of life. From this section of the memoir, I learned that everyone has their particular “vocation”- a mission in their life to carry out. As a result, every person's task is as unique as their chance to carry it out. Frankl emphasizes that throughout life, each situation presents humans with a challenge that must be overcome, which may reverse the question of meaning.
I learned from Frankl that life’s meaning is constantly changing, but it never desists to be. Logotherapy (a concept Frankl explores) consists of discovering it through three different means: our actions; and our experiences and encounters. The fact that we are human means that we are always directed toward something, or someone, other than ourselves-whether we are seeking meaning or encountering another human being. A person becomes more human when they forget themselves, when they devote themselves to a cause or a person they love and actualize themself. Frankl writes that there is no such thing as self-actualization since the more one strives for it, the more one will miss it. It is only through self-transcendence that self-actualization is possible. By self-transcendence and self-actualization, we can discover the world and the meaning of life. Although Frankl mentions that the meaning of life changes, it never halts- catastrophes happen, natural disasters happen, and events happen, but it is part of human nature to move on. By moving on, one discovers how to experience something in this world, which brings me to the next significant quote.
A central theme in the memoir is love - Frankl heavily emphasizes the power of love. For instance, love is shown when sick patients are being transported to rest camps. Frankl was on the list not to be sent to the rest camp due to his status as a doctor, however, there were speculations that the "rest camp" was a gas chamber. Frankl had the option of removing his name from the list, but he instead chose to stay with his loved ones, saying that he had to learn to let fate take its course. According to Frankl, one can fully understand a person only by loving him or her, since loving someone can enable one to see the potential in them. The act of helping someone find a vocation and meaning also helps one find one's own purpose in life.
Throughout his life, Frankl taught that people—even those who have been suffering enormously—can, and must, find meaning in their lives. His writing is proof of how words can alter the perspective of an individual. Frankl concludes that there is no general meaning to life. Humans have different vocations, purposes, and views. However, no matter how different we are, we are all humans with different meanings of life.
“After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” - Viktor Frankl