the central theme of existentialism

mans-search-for-meaning‘The central theme of existentialism: to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering…. Each must find out for himself [sic, here and throughout], and must accept the responsibilities that his answer prescribes.’–Introduction by Gordon W. Allport, 11

(Sometimes I edit out so much that you may not get what Frankl’s on about. I urge to read the book, or at least this.)

Frankl’s concentration camp experiences serve as a kind of laboratory, eliminating unnecessary variables and forefronting those which keep a human alive. Contrary to behavioural theory, with its random conditional and environmental factors in which a person’s choices are meaningless, he found that meaningful choice keeps a human alive. The absence of meaning is a death warrant.

He wrote, ‘Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no more than a product of many conditional and environmental factors? … Is man but an accidental product of these? Most important, do the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings? Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances? … The experiences of camp life show that man does have choice of action…. 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…. The mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions…. In the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him–mentally and spiritually…. It is this spiritual freedom–which cannot be taken away–that makes life meaningful and purposeful…. [He then outlines the active life of creativity and the passive life of enjoyment, both of which are taken away from prisoner.] But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence…. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete…. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate. Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.’ 86-89

Meaning is unique for each human. He clarifies that it is not the meaning of life in general, the why, so much as it is the tasking, the doing, the how, of each person in particular that gives meaning to life.

It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us [his emphasis]. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life–daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment….When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task…. Even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.’ 98-99

talk about existential scenarios! that’s the setting for the movie ‘gravity’. there’s an accident in space, and you’re all alone, only with the dwindling oxygen in your suit. what would you do? keep your sense of humour like clooney’s character or ultimately be grateful like bullock’s or what? or what?

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