Every book, movie or story in this world is hinged on two human quests- Man’s search for love, and Man’s search for meaning.
In the summer of 2014, I visited the place I dreaded the most ever since I found out about it- the Auchwitz & Birkenau Concentration camps in Poland. While on this trip, I was reading the book, ‘Man’s search for meaning’ – Viktor Frankl’s memoir of his experience in the exact same place.
While it was difficult to comprehend what the inmates at the camp would have really experienced, even standing inside the gas chambers where millions were ‘ gassed’ – what amazed me truly was that some people infact survived and lived through those horrors. As Frankl explains, most of the inmates would commit suicides or just give up on life, thus ending up diseased or too physically weak to carry on. And yet some stuck through, right till the very end! So what was it that kept these rare few going in the worst possible circumstances humans had ever seen in history of mankind?
Frankl brings it down to two human emotions- ‘Love’ and ‘Hope’… Somehow all that suffering gave the inmates an opportunity to discover the hidden delusional phenomenon of the human mind- Hope. Hope to be re-united with their loved ones, and the hope to get out and create a new life again. Only those who were able to develop this quintessential feeling of hope and hold onto their feelings of longing for loved ones, were able to carry on. And that’s where the ‘meaning’ comes in.
“For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
Frankl says “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” And this I believe is the greatest truth about human life. If you don’t have a ‘why’, you lose all your motivation and will to survive. Just imagine if you woke up one morning and still lying in bed, didn’t know what you were meant to do, or who to be with, wouldn’t it be difficult to even get out of bed? Yes, we are motivated by goals & targets that define our lives. Our ‘why’ is what drives us to do every single thing we do.. And no matter how tough it is, as long as we know that we will get there, the ‘how’ part becomes a part of a ‘meaningful’ journey.
Another aspect that Frankl touches on is that ‘suffering’ is sometimes essential to understand meaning. I was able to understand this using my point of view on success and failure- Ever wondered why a story of a person who failed first and then achieved success always inspires more (That person is celebrated as a ‘Hero’) than someone who just got things going for him right from the start (while this person will be termed as simply ‘Lucky’)?! Well, its because our human minds tend to find meaning in suffering (and also makes for a great story). Also this suffering becomes the beam of hope in the more dire of situations. It creates the ‘hope’ that could keep us alive in the worst of circumstances.
“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
One of the greatest thoughts Frankl also shared was about the meaning that a person’s life acquires meaning through service for others- these include family, loved ones or even fellow human beings.
“A man who becomes conscious of the responsbility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any how.”
At some points, Frankl talks recurringly about the role of nature in bringing him hope. He would mention that he looked forward to the sunrise and sunset, and despite the gloomy depressing circumstances around him, he always found that he could turn to nature to maim his pain. This is something that was also mentioned by Anne Frank in Her ‘Diary of a young girl’, where she said that nature is her only solace. Being an environment-lover, I could relate to this part of the book more that the rest of it.
What I went through while walking through the camp sites was something spine-chilling and hurtful, however it also made me understand that there is so much more to life than we know or do. But all I know is that We cannot let history repeat again. And that’s exactly why such memoirs are very important for us. So that we dont forget the atrocities committed.
“Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.”
Verdit: Totally recommend the book if you are a serious reader.
Category: Memoir/ Biography/Self-help