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Logotherapy and surviving the greatest of calamities
Victor Frankl's way of happiness in a seemingly impossible situation.
Complaining is popular these days. After all, it is more difficult to think by oneself than to merely throw out the words laying on your tongue. To criticize is to disengage. I believe it to be far more severe than meets the eye. The inherent problem with complaining all the time is that you are constantly making a choice to actively neglect what is present. It is to not accept the moment.
Complaining does not seem significant in the moment it is pursued, but being perpetually negative towards the task facing you might cause one to devalue everything. It is as the negativity bias circumstance when one deems a situation negative before it has even occurred, the situation will, by no other definition, be negative solely because of one’s perspective. This constant complaining will, by effect, cause one to always be inclined to negative experiences. They already have a foot out of the door, by not being open to whatever might transpire.
Furthermore, to be constantly neglecting is one thing by itself, but, as the very definition tells us, to be expressing these feelings of contempt towards others bears a whole new problem to complaining. Now, it not only afflicts the negativity bias upon oneself but likewise does it to the people one is complaining to, perhaps not knowingly, but that does not justify the action.
We are all familiar with the effects that our surroundings carry upon our identity and well-being.
If one’s surroundings are perpetually filled with negative refutations, it may just as easily create an inclination towards a worse experience than what is usual. It takes a mentally strong person to continually press against such a taunting discourse; particularly if the complainers consist of an entire social group, to which one is the only outcast.
It is worth mentioning that some may consider complaining to be able to yield positive change, which would be advantageous. It is precisely however when one yields positive change that one is no longer complaining, but instead acting on annoyances. In this essay, complaining shall be defined as people who express annoyance about something, without actively doing something to make change.
It is true that while one may find oneself in a bad state of mind, it is just as well an active engagement for one to stay in this bad mindset.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” — Victor Frankl
Upon reading the great works of Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, perhaps one will find a new perspective on the significance complaining holds. Victor Frankl was a survivor of the greatest of calamities, the holocaust, and the nazi-movement of World War II. Frankl had been through four different campsites, losing his dad to disease, as well as his brother, mother, and wife to the inhumane gas chambers. Throughout the entirety of Frankl’s imprisonment, he faced adversity, but continually found a meaning for him to continue trying.
He continued even in spite of perpetual suffering, partially because of the way he formed meaning in his life. Frankl managed to create meaning through (1) envisioning his future (one time he envisioned doing a talk about his book of which he had only written a few drafts in the campsites. Another time he envisioned reconnecting with his wife, whom he did not yet know if she was dead or alive, as they became separated in different campsites), hereby creating a purpose to stay alive and live out his future, and (2), by controlling his reaction to the external events that transpired. Frankl discovered that man is willing to live for the sake of his values and ideals.
'Everything can be taken from a man but 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.' — Victor Frankl
After undergoing the cruelty of Nazi concentration camps, Frankl was liberated in 1945 in Austria where he would remain. It was at this time he would discover the death of his loved ones, and he writes that he had not imagined the kind of pain and adjustment that would happen when he was released. As he writes in his book, “in the camp, we believed that we had reached the lowest point — and then, when we returned, we saw that nothing has survived, that that which had kept us standing has been destroyed, that at the same time as we were becoming human again, it was possible to fall deeper.“ During his adjustment time to ‘normal’ life, he would begin writing his book.
This book was about the invention of logotherapy. In his book, he talks about his beliefs that humans are intrinsically motivated by the desire to find meaning in life. He argues that one can find meaning even in the most extreme circumstances, as he did.
He then writes, in his book, that people can discover meaning in three different ways: 1) by creating a work or doing a deed, 2) by experiencing something or encountering someone, and 3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering (this last option is only meaningful when the first two are unavailable). For clarification, Frankl did not subscribe to the idea that one has to suffer to discover meaning. He talks about the circumstance when it is no longer an option — when inevitable suffering occurs, it is possible to find meaning in spite of it.
The message of Frankl’s story is that one can always find meaning in life, even in spite of inevitable suffering, as he had experienced. The value is worth emphasizing: it is how one reacts to the external events that determine your path. A positive attitude enables a person to endure the inevitable suffering, while a negative attitude intensifies the pain and deepens disappointments. As he himself experiences: a lot of his campmates lost hope, and within it, they lost their lives.
Logotherapy, as it stands, is as relevant today as when it was first written.
Perhaps the next time one feels compelled to complain about the troubles in their life, one will think twice before making such a decision. If not for the sake of finding meaning through the inevitability of suffering through Frankl’s words, then at the very least for the sake of the wellbeing of a friend.
When Victor Frankl asked his students what his own meaning of life was, one student raised his hand, "The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs”, to which Frankl replied, “That was it, exactly. Those are the very words I had written”.
Until next time,