Sunday, June 10, 2012

Searching for Meaning

Have you ever felt as if you were being led to a book?

A couple of months ago my work laptop started malfunctioning. I took it upstairs to our Information Technology (IT) department which happens to be located in a room inside of our media center (aka: library).

As I  hung around in the library waiting for the laptop problem to be ascertained, I started looking through the books on the shelf outside of IT. I happened to find myself in the philosophy section.  This peaked my interest because although my son rarely read for pleasure, during his senior year in high school he developed a keen interest in philosophy and read many books on the subject. This spurred several interesting and thought provoking conversations during long road trips when we were visiting colleges.

Needless to say, as I found myself in the philosophy section of the high school where I work, I began exploring the shelves with great interest. One particular book caught my eye. It was Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. The book had been recommended to me in the past, but I had never read it. As I began thumbing through the pages, I discovered the incredible true story of a Jewish psychiatrist who found himself imprisoned in several notorious Nazi concentration camps during world War II including Auschwitz.

I checked out the book, took it home, and ended up reading it in one night! I don't remember what was wrong with my computer, but the story of Frankl's struggle to maintain hope and dignity in the most  oppressive of circumstances will be something I will remember forever.

The first half of the book chronicles his concentration camp experiences and his struggle to find a reason to live. The second half of the book explores the theory of logo therapy that he developed, in part, based on his concentration camp experiences. Something that was crucial to his survival was finding meaning in every moment. Even in suffering we all have choices. He says that we can't avoid suffering but we can find meaning in it and choose how we deal with it.

Here is a quote from pages 65-66 that demonstrates his philosophy:

"We who have lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

It's no wonder this book has sold over twelve million copies in twenty-four languages.

This summer between semesters, my son found a summer job working at a camp in Colorado. There is no TV, no cell coverage, and one computer with Internet access that must be shared with all the staff. As I was considering what to send him that wouldn't get eaten by the squirrels or be difficult to pack on his return trip back to college in the fall, I thought of Frankl's book. Thanks to shipping, this fascinating story is now on its way to Colorado.


  1. Awesome story, Carolee! I've never read "Man's Search for Meaning", but I've read Victor Frankl's quote before and have heard of him. He was an amazing man.

    And I can't believe your son is at a camp with no TV, no cell and no computer! *I* wouldn't survive! ;-) Hope he does great.

    My boys have enjoyed their college philosophy classes. Jared just finished one this summer and got an A, too. Whew. :-)

  2. My son actually had to get evacuated because the forest surrounding the highway going up to the camp was on fire. Then, a few days later, they asked for volunteers to go back because the camp is now housing the hot shot fire fighters fighting the blaze. He volunteered to return. He's loving it in spite of the lack of electronics. They had to have a police escort because the road was still shut down.


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