Man’s Search for Meaning
For many of us, deep contemplation of our humanity only comes into fore in the face of immorality. When events dawn upon us which bump us out of our comfort zone, we begin to realize the fragility of our humanity. What does make an individual human? Does being human become limited to the use of spoken or written language, culture and making mistakes? (to err is human as they say) Our humanity has always been tied to our existence on this world. To this we may ask, does humanity go deeper than what we can imagine? Is there more to humanity than culture and spoken/written language? In his popular book to which this paper has been named after, psychologist Viktor Frankl provides simple answers to these questions. His experiences from the Nazi concentration camps not only gave him a chance to observe humanity at its barest essence, but also go through the same pains and small pleasures that inmates had to endure during those years. Humanity, as Frankl observes, aims to find a sense of purpose or meaning behind every event of pleasure and suffering to which an individual encounters. The instinct of survival is closely associated to one’s meaning of life. Without it, man becomes disheartened and thus, succumbs to death.
Death is one strong indicator of humanity. For the author of this paper, death presents itself as a sign of the finiteness of human life. It comes without warning, and the notion of it compels an individual who is aware that his death may be just around the corner to make full use of his lease on life. Death on the concentration camps as noted by Frankl, become ordinary events which are very contrasting to how modern outside society treats it. The conditions to which the inmates of the concentration camp were subjected can be very disturbing to an ordinary person whom has yet to experience the numerous horrors inside the camps. Deprivation of almost every comfort accessible to man outside of the camp led the prisoners to a state of heightened apathy. It came down to every man for himself, and survival hanged on the balance of the will to live, as Frankl observes. Suffering in an extreme degree has stripped down the individual, Frankl included, to the barest shred of humanity that they had. Aside from the withered and battered shape of their bodies, the blatant disregard for life by those who kept them in the camps have fostered a sense of disregard and hopelessness to life in itself. Should it be unbelievable to imagine that such torture has been endured by someone who actually survived and was able to tell about his experience? The author of this paper thinks so, and with this a vital point of humanity is seen: the will to live.
Frankl describes human will as the primary motivation of man to live and survive in his life. The human will is not a product of his primary instincts (i.e. the ego), but a manifestation of a unique meaning inherent in every human individual. In meaning we also relate the term objective or purpose, or an end to which a human is entitled to fulfill in his/her life. The willpower of a human is nourished by the will to life (or will to meaning in Frankl’s terms), love (in its many forms) and suffering. Why include suffering? Before answering this, we must first focus on how the will to live and love strengthen the ties that bind the human will together. The will to meaning, the general urge to find one’s purpose in life, provides man with a goal that is unique to him/her and which only he/she can accomplish. As Frankl notes, not all of us are able to see instantly the meaning of our lives. Some of us may have a hard time acquiring this, while others travel along paths which lead then further away from this. In the acquisition of this purpose, man finds stability and inner peace within himself together with a new general direction for his/her existence. What about love? Love, other than being a feeling, is a consolidating force which enables a person to see the fullest of another. It is through love, Frankl says, that a person’s full humanity is displayed. The human potential can only be seen through the eyes of the one who loves him, and it is this phenomenon which empowers individuals who share love with one another and lift each other in times of need. Love preserves the fire to live, and as Frankl shows in his book, his love and longing for his wife has been a crucial factor in his survival from the camps.
Suffering, though not something of pleasant orientation, also serves as a crucial factor in the fostering of the will. This combination of pain and stress is a key to highlight another point which defines humanity: the ability to change. In the face of a hopeless situation, or within the experience of suffering, man is given a chance to redefine himself. To find light in the midst of darkness, to be able to see hope in a dire scenario and to be able to transform defeat into a moral victory is a defining trait of humanity. The load of potential which is locked within an individual can be released by adversity, and by going through this problem man finds the virtue of sacrifice. The virtue of sacrifice alters the complexion of a man, and moreover, gives meaning to his suffering. The ability to see meaning in pain and suffering has been a skill unique to humanity. The actual process of experiencing distress enables man to improve upon himself even more, allowing him/her to actualize the human potential locked within. This property of suffering also feeds the human will, and thus completes the triumvirate for it.
Frankl’s book also details the fundamental human freedom, the freedom of choice. Humanity gives man the freedom to choose. In a lot of situations in our lives we are required to make choices, and a lot of times the choices we make have a lot of implications in the long run. Ranging from small and insignificant to big and life altering, the freedom of choice has always been inherent to man. According to Frankl, the practice of this freedom by an individual is a vital part to life. Ultimately the concept of choice directly puts into the hands of an individual the control for his/her life. In having sight of their respective purposes in life, one may choose to fulfill them and have inner peace, or do the opposite. Freedom works hand in hand with the human will to fully utilize the innate human potential of man. With these traits man is able to make use of his/her life to the fullest, IF this is the choice being made. Freedom and the human will guides an individual towards the actualization of his/her life’s meaning. They are the means provided by our humanity to achieve our own ends.
Humanity, when stripped of all the comforts and liberties it has enjoyed, bares itself in its purest before the eyes of an informed observer. The primary facets which include the human will and the freedom of choice allow an individual to attain an ultimate goal or end to which his/her life has become the means. The vast potential of humanity is unlocked by the raw power of the human will, and directed by the freedom of choice. The integration of these two gives clarity and direction to the human life. Abstract as it may seem, the achievement of man’s meaning leads to a sense of fulfillment and inner peace. At the end of the day, it is these two factors that give humanity a tangible face which can be seen, appreciated and used to develop oneself into his or her best.