In many ways, Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning” is a memoir and a treatise on human tenacity. In one way, it tells of Frankl’s hardships in the Nazi imprisonment camps, Auschwitz being the worst. In another manner, the book gives us insight into how we can endure in the hardest of times and the worst of conditions.
Near the beginning of the book, Frankl wrote, “I made myself a firm promise, on my first evening in camp, that I would not ‘run into the wire.’”
“Running into the wire” was one way of saying that a person had given up hope. If the person saw no reason to live anymore, he might run toward the guard wires only to be shot by a soldier.
If you have ever seen “The Great Escape,” Ives does the same thing when he cannot bear to live as a prisoner of war any longer.
Frankl was fond of quoting Nietzche and Dostoevsky, both of which also sought to understand how humankind might endure suffering and even prosper.
The quintessential quote that is a summation or thesis behind “Man’s Search For Meaning” might be Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
During wrestling practice in high school, I hated the grind we were put through. Even now, there are moments where I don’t enjoy the uncomfortable nature of competition training or “going live” in self-defense scenarios. But we are tested in these times, where our true willpower either manifests or falls flat.
In an interview with Ryan Ford on “The Grappling Central” podcast, former Olympian and national coach, Jimmy Pedro, detailed what it was like for him to go to the Kodokan in his younger years to train Judo. He said it was grueling, and his body was put through the wringer. Pedro didn’t know how he endured the physical exertion day after day, and he didn’t think he would last more than a few weeks.
But, week by week, his body adjusted to the grind. Before long, he had been there for a few months. He traveled back to the Kodokan again on future dates with the knowledge that he could survive and even thrive. And, he knew the training made him a better Judoka.
In one section of the book, Frankl explains a method he used to overcome the emotional distress of suffering. He looked past the present pain and envisioned himself giving a lecture to an audience about the psychology of the concentration camp. He took the sting out of the moment by observing it as if it had already happened.
He followed that passage by quoting Spinoza: “Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.”
Through this method of foresight as insight and recognizing the emotions we feel as something that adds to our suffering, we are able to gain a clearer picture of what we need to withstand the present trial.
For him, it was overcoming the evils of the concentration camp. For Jimmy Pedro, perhaps it was the Olympic dream of a gold medal. He might have envisioned himself on the podium.
Frankl wrote that we have the power of our own destiny and our self-worth. “Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.”
To seal this concept, he quoted Dostoevsky, who once said, “There is only one thing that I dread: Not to be worthy of my sufferings.”
If Jimmy Pedro and many other elite athletes were to ask themselves, was the struggle worth the prize? Many, if not most, would give a resounding “Yes!” They learned what their bodies and their minds could endure.
If we are to find meaning in our suffering, we must first resolve our minds to bear its weight, to survive its harshness. Don’t “run into the wire.”
What’s your “why” to live?
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7 thoughts on “Readings: Man’s Search For Meaning (Suffering and Success)”
A solid choice
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The most moving tale in Frankl’s book is when he hears another inmate at the concentration camp moaning in fear as he slept. Frankl started to wake the man, but changed his mind, thinking that whatever the man was dreaming couldn’t have been as bad as the reality he was in.
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So true, Mike.
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