Lessons to learn from VICTOR FRANKL
Viktor Emil Frankl (26 March 1905 – 2 September 1997) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor, surviving Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering, and Türkheim. He took a particular interest in studying, depression and suicide, and he set up youth counseling centers in Vienna in a successful effort to decrease teen suicide in the city and earned his doctorate in medicine in 1930.
In 1930, he organized a special counseling program at the end of the school term, whereupon, for the first time in years, no student suicide occurred in Vienna. Frankl got international attention: Wilhelm Reich invited him to Berlin, the universities of Prague and Budapest want him for lecturing. Between 1933-1937, Frankl became the chief of the “Female Suicidals Pavilion” at the Psychiatric Hospital in Vienna, with some 3000 patients annually passing through his hands.
In 1942, Frankl was deported to a Nazi concentration camp along with his wife, parents, and other family members. He spent time in four camps in total, including Auschwitz, from 1942 to 1945, and was the only member of his family to survive. In the midst of his experiences, Frankl would project himself into different circumstances, such as lecturing to his students after his release from the death camps.
He would describe himself in the classroom, in his mind’s eye, and give his students the lessons he was learning during his very torture. In the midst of all the tortures he went through, he illustrated the idea of Personal Freedom. Frankl and his wife, and shortly later his 65-year-old mother, are transported to the extinction camp Auschwitz.
His mother is immediately murdered in the gas chamber, and his wife is moved to Bergen-Belsen, where she is to die at the age of 24 Frankl said, “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.” He explained that no matter how adverse the circumstances may be, how much pain one may have to endure, but one thing which no one can take away from us is our Personal Freedom. We have the right to choose our reaction/response to the event. He did exactly the same thing in prison.
When he was subjected to the lowest level of torture by Nazi captors, he believed he was free and he was in control of himself. He not only brought this idea of Personal Freedom in himself but also guided all the prisoners and elevated their life in jail. His book, Man’s Search for Meaning is the best selling book in the market and it is an account of all his experiences in the concentration camps. Frankl explains, “Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.”
The psychology of Frankl was summarised by him, in what he called Logo Therapy. Frankl believed that humans are motivated by something called a “will to mean,” which equates to a desire to find meaning in life. He argued that life can have meaning even in the most miserable of circumstances and that the motivation for living comes from finding that meaning.
Taking it a step further, Frankl wrote:
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.
Frankl motivated all the prisoners in the concentration camps. He made them believe that they are free and it is up to them to decide their response to all the atrocities which are being inflicted upon them. They should be free and not bound by external circumstances.
“Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, “I have nothing to expect from life anymore.” What sort of answer can one give to that?
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…..”
Frankl’s had to tell us about love,
Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.
He gives timeless advice to his students,
Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.