Lance Scranton: The value of meaning
May 19, 2015
Asked by members of the community to deliver a short address to those attending Baccalaureate this year, I thought back to one of my favorite books written many years ago that taught me some life lessons that have carried me through both good times and bad.
Victor Frankl was a prisoner in the horrific Nazi death camps during World War II and wrote of his experiences in a book titled, "Man's Search for Meaning." I've read the book more than a few times, and what stands out the most is how enduring his belief was in the future. He never knew from one day to the next if he would be put to work, beaten or exterminated during his imprisonment. He only knew, by experience and observation, that most of the prisoners who gave up or devolved into animalism were lacking in any type of hope.
Dr. Frankl discusses the value of hope and optimism when he watches the inhumanity of his captors and the people who turn against the Jewish people. Most of his immediate family were brutalized and murdered by Nazi soldiers who treated the prisoners of the camp like cattle on a train. Still, he maintained an optimism that helped him survive the horrendous experience and turned it into a book that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in WWII history and a personal narrative that certainly rates as one of the best I have read about prison camp experiences.
As Frankl admits in his book, not every experience leads to results we would like, but still we can choose our attitude because at the end of everything we have left only that which we believe or put our trust in. He carefully examines humanity and wraps our potential around three enduring concepts without which we can never extract a meaningful existence.
He writes passionately that the more you forget yourself, give of yourself, serve the ones you love the more meaning you will have in your life. How beauty, truth, goodness are in our culture and we must choose to find them while experiencing each other in our uniqueness — by loving each other — only then will we be truly who we are, know what potential we have in us and what we can truly become.
He completes his treatise by explaining that circumstances will get the best of us sometimes and that life will extract from you an answer regarding how you dealt with personal difficulties. His seminal argument is about how we must not live to attain happiness but must find reasons for wanting to be happy in the first place.
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Surely some sage advice from someone who experienced the horrors of war and the depravity some are capable of forcing upon others, given the power and authority. From this side of history it seems impossible to escape the brutal effects of war but for those who have gone before us we should read, listen and learn.