The influence of Frankl s exceptional life and work has been profound. His writing alone has impacted people from all walks of life. Educators, students, religious leaders (including Roman Catholic Pope Paul VI), politicians , philosophers , psychologists, psychiatrists, and millions of others in search of meaning in their lives have been touched significantly by Frankl s work. Yet he was a humble man, modest and not interested in promoting himself in the fashion of the times.
He was also inspirational to those whose lives were anchored in struggle. For example, one young man from Texas, Jerry Long, age 17, was the victim of a paralyzing motor vehicle accident . He was left a quadriplegic and was able to type only by using a pencil- size rod that he held in his mouth. But he remained committed to becoming a psychologist because he liked people and wanted to help them. He wrote to Frankl after reading Man s Search for Meaning, remarking that his difficulties seemed to be far less than those suffered by Frankl and his comrades.
Yet Jerry found new insights every time he read Frankl s book. He said, I have suffered but I know that, without the suffering, the growth I have achieved would not have been possible.
When he eventually met Dr. Frankl in person, he told him, The accident broke my back, but it did not break me. [ 6]
In Frankl s words, You do not have to suffer to learn. But, if you don t learn from suffering, over which you have no control, then your life becomes truly meaningless. . . . The way in which a man accepts his fate ”those things beyond his control ”can add a deeper meaning to his life. He controls how he responds. [ 7]
In the death camps of Nazi Germany, Frankl saw men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, he wrote, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms ”to choose one s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one s own way. [ 8]
This statement is perhaps one of the most often quoted references to Frankl s work. In this connection, U.S. Senator John McCain attributed his own survival as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven years in large part to the learning he acquired from Frankl s experience and teachings. In point of fact, Senator McCain began the preface to his book, Faith of My Fathers (1999), with this same Frankl quote.
In the realm of work and meaning, references to Frankl s work are numerous . Bestselling author, Stephen R. Covey, who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, was particularly influenced by Frankl s vision. Referring to Frankl s concentration camp experience in First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy, Covey and his associates cited the following passage from Man s Search for Meaning : . . . The single most important factor, he realized, was a sense of future vision ”the impelling conviction of those who were to survive that they had a mission to perform, some important work left to do. [ 9]
Viktor Frankl, to be sure, leaves a profound legacy. Through his life and his work, he reminds us that we all have important work to do, that whatever we do is important, and that there is meaning everywhere, all the time.
Recall a situation at work in which you felt trapped or confined (this may even be your situation today). Perhaps you just didn t have the freedom or authority to deal with the situation in the way that, ideally , you would have liked. What, if anything, did you do about it? What, in other words, was your escape plan? As you think about the situation now, what did you learn from it? What would you have done differently?
Meaning Moment: What is your vision of the kind of work that you really want to do.
For Further Reflection: Consider the hardships that you have experienced in your own work life. How might Frankl s experience in the concentration camps help you deal with such hardships?
[ 6] Viktor E. Frankl, Man s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy (Boston: Beacon Press, 4th Edition, 1992), pp. 147 “49.
[ 7] See also Frankl, Man s Search for Meaning, p. 117.
[ 8] Frankl, Man s Search for Meaning, p 75.
[ 9] Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), p. 103.