Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Of Love, Life and Meaning: Frankl and Vujicic

Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning
Frankl experienced harrowing years in a Nazi Death Camp. From that experience, he developed his Theory of Logotherapy, a psychological theory that focuses on man’s search for a higher meaning in life as his primary motivational force. This is as opposed to Freud’s motivations based on pleasure, and Adler’s on power.

Stripped of everything in the Nazi camps - from clothes, to possessions, to pride and identity - Frankl noticed that man still differed in the way they responded to these harsh situations. He says that the last of freedoms to remain and that may not be stripped away was the freedom to choose one’s attitudes from any given set of circumstances. The environment was not the all-determining factor to man’s reactions – man had free use of his will to meaning, his attitude, to assign meaning and an appropriate reaction to these situations based on this meaning.

From Frankl’s experiences, it can be gleaned that there are no circumstances too terrible to say that we could not help but act the way we did, esp. negatively or harmfully. We always have a choice, he is saying. He supports this in stating that even among prisoners who had experienced similar atrocities, their reactions were different – some managed to remain benevolent, others antagonistic. And that even among the prison guards, there were good ones and bad ones.
“In the concentration camps, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”
(Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning)
Life without Limbs: Nick Vujicic
Victor Frankl's story brings to mind Nick Vujicic - that Aussie guy who is pretty much like an ordinary guy - EXCEPT he had no arms and legs, and yet had a bright disposition and has even used his situation to help others; whereas others with similar circumstances would have chosen to give up, withdraw from life, or ask life for pity. He did not let his circumstances dictate the outcome of his life. He travels around the world as an inspirational speaker and his story truly tugs at the heart.

Love, Chemicals and Choice
This also reminds me of that scientific finding about the chemical basis of love, where love is the function of certain chemicals or hormones that act on our physiology. That these hormones last for an average of 4 years. It almost renders us at the mercy of our hormones. But while the studies also show that proof of this is that most divorces happen on the 4th year (when the hormones start to wane), it also suggests that on the 4th year at least, those who remain together have used the power of their will, and no longer just the force of their hormones, to choose to stay with their partners. They have found meaning in the relationship and have chosen to preserve it.
“Man is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining.”
(Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning)

Book Recommendations:
Life Without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life
Man's Search for Meaning
The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy (Meridian)
Recollections: An Autobiography
Viktor Frankl: A Life Worth Living

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