Saturday mornings, I try to take at least one hour for a cup of tea and split my time between reading some fiction for pleasure and non-fiction related to my work. A few weeks ago, a dear friend dropped off a pile of Success magazines as I am often looking for magazines for art projects. I have to profess I am not much of a magazine reader but I took one look at those out of date magazines and decided I needed to read them. Today I sat down to peruse the May 2011 copy of Success and within that magazine, I found the topic for this blog.
The article that caught my attention was Doctor of the Soul by Deborah Huso (Success May 2011 p. 60-64). This article was about Viktor Frankl. For those of you who do not know, Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was an Austrian psychiatrist who created an existential form of therapy called Logotherapy.
There was a passage in this article that got me thinking about my life and Frankl:
Frankl believed that man could obtain meaning in life in one of three ways: by engaging in fulfilling deeds, Through relationships with another person or persons, or in his attitude towards the unavoidable suffering of life, that is to find meaning even in the midst of pain’(p. 64)
These three lines tossed me back to my angst ridden early teens. I always liked to read and by 13 I was often reading books that adults (not my parents) would tell me were too old for me. That was when I first read Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) by Viktor Frankl. At the time, I had no idea who Frankl was. My interest in the book was because it was about World War II and it was a topic of interest to me. I have no idea why, at that moment in my life, this book had such a profound effect on me. As typical for me at that age, I skipped what I thought at the time was the lengthy and boring introduction, and just read the story. There was a point in the book where Frankl speaks about how men were making choices about how they died in the concentration camp he was in; some just curled up and gave up, some fought friends/family/strangers for the last scrap of food, others tried to help others. He spoke about there are many things where we are born, who we are born to that we cannot control but how we respond to a situation we always have a choice. This idea blew me away at 13!
At that time in my life, I remember feeling profoundly powerless in my life for some fairly typical teenage reasons; school, peer, and family struggles. I was frequently in trouble for; lying, stealing, fighting, swearing, failing grades in school, generally raging against the world and not understanding how I fit in my own life. Man’s Search for Meaning, connected me to the concept that I had a choice in how I responded to things that were occurring around me. Instead of screaming at the world and feeling sorry for myself, I could try to look at it from another perspective. Sometime after reading the book, I remember distinctly being at school one day, kneeling in front of my locker (that was on the bottom of the two level system) and getting the expected/dreaded kick in my back from the boy who had the locker above me and instead of bursting into tears and feeling sorry for myself at the pain and humiliation from the physical and verbal insults he gave me every morning, I found myself wondering what lead him to be so angry. What was his life like that he had to put me down and kick me as part of his routine? This moment felt like a tipping point in my life, I started to less sorry for myself, less self absorbed and at times when crappy things happened sometimes I was able at what could I learn from the experience. The moment I am describing was not a single life changing more like a moment that was a part of many moments that slowly shaped who I was to become.
As I read the passage today about how people can obtain meaning in life, I realised that from a very young age Frankl’s work has woven it’s way into my being. I often have people comment on how I am too optimistic or am always trying to see the other perspective in a situation or person. I believe that some of the foundation for how I view the world came from Man’s Search for Meaning. Today I am reminded of how many people have influenced who I became and who still influences my career. I am not a Logotherapist, I have never been formally trained in Frankl’s work but he has had a profound effect on how I create meaning in my life. I have a strong value in doing for others and giving back to the community, in a digital age connecting with people face to face is more and more important to me and I look for meaning even when I am suffering.
MSW, RSW, REAT, Certified TRE® Provider