Lately I’ve seen a lot on the web about Viktor Frankl’s classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Perhaps it’s ‘come’ to me because it’s one of my all time favorites. In cleaning out my basement I just came across a paper I wrote in social work school (many moons ago) on The Self that incorporates many of his brilliant concepts and quotes. Reading this paper now struck me as to how much I’ve developed, grown and been guided by many of his ideas and theories on pain and suffering, external circumstances, choice, responses, responsibility and meaning.
I guess it’s no wonder then that my life’s work on a personal and professional level, my innermost struggles and my deep interest has for as long as I can remember, revolverd around this theme of overcoming adversity, and rising above one’s challenges and creating a good life despite… This has resonated for me my entire life.
My most exciting new venture in this area is seeking out and interviewing people who personify this theme. And then writing up and putting out there on this blog their messages of coping, finding new meaning and rebuilding their lives through and beyond their challenges and pain. My hope is that their words teach, touch and inspire you as they do me. And that hopefully you walk away with a new way of looking at things.
In my most recent interview by Julie Genovese, choice was one of her poignant concepts in guiding her towards creating and therefore living a more positive life.
Choice is one of Viktor Frankl’s big ideas. He speaks of being in the concentration camps and having everything taken away except 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. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom….”
“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forego the opportunities of attaining the values that a difficult situation may afford him.”
There is obviously something much deeper than one’s circumstances in shaping our lives. Frankl goes on to say, “man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.”
There are those who are resigned to believing that some people are just lucky enough to be born with strength of character or an optimistic nature. But to me the issue is, how can we develop these traits of strength and optimism? How do we teach ourselves to view things differently, to become of stronger nature? I believe we all can do this, if we want to. We can work on our attitude; we can work on letting go of some of the suffering, as the great quote (unknown author) states, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” And we can certainly take steps towards self-improvement so we don’t remain stuck in our misery. (That’s where coaching help can come in – plug for us coaches!)
One final powerful idea stated by Frankl – “What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”
This reminds me of what Julie said, “For many years I was always looking for how I can be helped because I thought I needed help. Instead I realized I had something to give; it was me and my experience and my heart, and that was enough.”
Are we rising up to the occasion of Life? What is life’s expectation of us? Are we Choosing to make it as good and meaningful as possible even in the shadow of our problems?
There’s a lot of food for thought here. I hope you will share some of your thoughts by commenting. Please share this piece on facebook/twitter. And of course I thank you for stopping by and reading. I hope something resonates with you and that you take something positive away.