Man’s Search for Meaning and Yoda
About a month ago, a colleague and I were discussing the challenges associated with our respective engagements at the time. My colleague, whose name I will elect to leave out (I’ll refer to him as Master Yoda or Yoda for short), is one of those seasoned professionals who touts over 20 years in the IT industry along with an impressive string of credentials and unique experiences. He’s as sharp as they come and I find myself reaching out to him for professional advice periodically; he also boasts a humorous and engaging personality which makes for a great dialogue every time we speak. Not only do I consider him one of my most valuable mentors, I also consider him a friend who has doled out some important personal advice in the past which I still appreciate to this day. OK…Enough! I’ve inflated his ego enough and I will now proceed to move forward with the point of my trivial little blog entry.
The outcome of our therapeutic work debrief (that’s code for venting session) concluded with Yoda making a book recommendation. He said he was very much interested in my thoughts on the book so 5 minutes later, I logged onto Amazon and made my purchase. He then said: “the book will be very different then any book you’ve read before…It’s not what you think it is…It’s very interesting.” This cryptic response intrigued me a bit but it did not inspire me enough to read the summary of the book before I purchased it. To be quite honest, I assumed it was business related as that’s really all I read for both work and pleasure. Sad…I know. The only thing I knew was that the book was called “Man’s Search for Meaning”, it was recommended strongly by someone I respected and I’d be receiving in 4 – 6 days.
At this point you must either be riddled with critical suspense or perhaps on the verge of breaking down into tears, induced by the boredom of this tale. Bear with me as I’ll tie the purpose up in a bow over the next 5 paragraphs. Upon receiving the book, I promptly flipped to the back cover to read a synopsis of what I was about to get myself into. My first internal reaction was, “did Amazon accidentally send me the wrong book?” I then recognized the authors name and accepted the fact that this was the book recommended. I obviously gave it a shot.
Quick Overview: Man’s Search for Meaning is psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir with powerful descriptions of life in Nazi death camps, and its lessons for spiritual survival. There are more then 12 million copies in print worldwide and Frankl himself has published more then thirty books on theoretical and clinical psychology. He died in 1997.
My colleague reached out to me about a week after receiving the book and asked me what I got out of the book. His exact words were: “what was your most significant takeaway?” At this point I had only read the first 40 pages or so, which essentially highlighted Frankl’s early days at the Nazi camps, laying the foundation, inch by inch, in support of his soon-to-be apparent thesis. My response was timid as I didn’t really want to comment until I had finished the book in its entirety. But alas…I gave in. I believe I stated “so far the book makes me feel grateful for all that I have”. He promptly responded, in Yoda like fashion, “We’ll talk again once you’ve finished the book and I’ll ask you the same question”. I thought to myself, hmmm, that was a very peculiar response…What if I still feel the same way once I finish the book? Is that existential takeaway not meaningful enough?
Several weeks later, Master Yoda reached out to me once again and asked, quite abruptly, “What was your most significant take away?”. By now I had finished reading the book. I immediately tensed up for a brief moment as I now felt the question was a much more important one, and my view was indeed very different then my original perspective. My exact response (I know because I saved the instant message conversation) was the following: “There were many. An important one was that even in turmoil, suffering or death, one does not need to give into circumstance and act as those around you. Even in those times, you can still maintain your dignity as that can never be taken from you, by staying true to yourself and helping and respecting those around you. Circumstance does not define someone…Your internal hopes and dreams are what keep your personal flame going.” I paused, waiting in anticipation for his response, “Yes! I now feel like I have done something positive. You made my day, thank you”. Master Yoda seemed pleased… as was I for being exposed to such an important piece of literature.
Frankl’s memoir had a very profound effect on my thinking and subsequently sparked introspection for several weeks. Based on his own experience and the stories of his patients, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward. At the heart of the theory, known as logotherapy, is a conviction that the primary human drive is not pleasure but the pursuit of what we find meaningful. Some of these experiences were so moving that they nearly brought me to tears.
Although “Man’s Search for Meaning” delves into existentialism on a number of levels and its subject matter primarily leans towards critical circumstances, its findings and/or logic can also be applied to many minor challenges we face in our own daily lives. It offers perspective, which many books do, but it provides something most books do not. It provides clarity. Clarity on a topic so abstract and controversial that many shy away from the subject altogether for fear of self evaluation… and an even greater fear of what potentially may be found.
The book was thought provoking and inspiring to say the least. Thank you master Yoda and all your wisdom.