Planting Golden Seeds in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, and Durham


Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor E. Frankl


Inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes


14 August 2011 

Dear Friend


Viktor Frankl is a man after my own heart, not least because he believed that our choices in life should be active rather than passive.  He saw clearly that in making personal choices we affirm our autonomy as human beings.

Frankl writes, "Man is ultimately self-determining.  What he becomes - within the limits of endowment and environment - he has made out of himself." 

This simple truth that Frankl ardently promoted in his book Man's Search for Meaning has profound significance for anyone who cares to listen (including me).  If you have found your way here today, you may well be facing existential challenges or be in crisis.  You may already have sought advice or guidance from family, friends, therapists, or religious counsellors.  Sometimes such advice is helpful: sometimes it is not.

In his book, Frankl offers readers who are searching for answers to life's dilemmas a critical mandate:he does not tell people what to do, but why they must do it.  Man's Search for Meaning is seen as one of the great books of our time, being first and foremost a book about survival. Frankl, like so many other German and East European Jews was cast into the Nazi network of concentration and extermination camps during World War II.  

But, his account in this book is less about his travails - what he suffered and lost - than it is about the sources of his own strength to survive and what he observed in others. Several times in the course of the book, Frankl approvingly quotes the words of Nietzche,

"He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How." 

Frankl's experiences in Auschwitz reinforced what was already one of his key ideas: life is not primarily a quest for pleasure as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.  Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning:

  • in work (doing something significant),
  • in love (caring for another person), and
  • in courage during difficult times.

His most enduring and helpful insight was that forces beyond our control can take away everything we possess except one thing, our freedom to choose how we respond to the situation.  Frankl saw that we cannot control what happens in our lives, but we can always control what we feel and do about what happens.   

I'll be back soon with more about Viktor E. Frankl, a man who was once asked to express in one sentence the meaning of his own life.  He wrote the response on paper and asked his students to guess what he had written.  After some moments of quiet reflection, a student surprised Frankl by saying, "The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs."

Frankl replied, "That was it, exactly.  Those are the very words I had written."

Sincerely yours, 

Marian @ Krysan


Date as Postmark

Dear Friend


Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist by avocation and a philosopher by inclination. My plan in today's letter is to start by exploring the notion of healing through reading,something strongly advocated by Dr. Frankl.

The benefits of reading were also on philosopher Henry David Thoreau's mind when he wrote, 

'How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book! The book exists for us, perchance, that will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The, at present, unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered.'

A further equally worthy musing from Thoreau was, "It is reasonable that a man should be something worthier at the end of the year than he was at the beginning."  For me, the same holds true when we reach the end of a war or even a book.  Accruing knowledge that we might learn and profit is what life's about - and I am not alone in thinking that.

We are told that the book has now lived to see nearly one hundred printings in English - in addition to have been published in twenty-one other languages.  'And the English editions alone sold more than three million copies'.  A best seller?  Certainly.  But, for its author, its status was not seen as an achievement or an accomplishment by him,

"It was rather an expression of the misery of our time; if hundreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their fingernails." FRANKL, 1992  

In my final letter to you, I will venture into the book's second part - "Logotherapy in a Nutshell" which, in the author's own words, "... boils down, as it were, to the lesson one may distill from the first part - "Experiences in a Concentration Camp". Both parts are seen as mutually supportive.

Interestingly, Frankl admonished his future students (and his readers) with these words,

"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."  FRANKL, 1992

We are advised to do as our conscience commands and 'success will follow precisely because we had forgotten to think of it'.This has to be a good place to finish, but on second thoughts not before making two more points.  The first comes as another admonition from the author.

"It is easy for the outsider to get the wrong conception of camp life, a conception mingled with sentiment and pity.  Little does he know of the hard fight for existence which raged among the prisoners.  This was an unrelenting struggle for daily bread and for life itself, for one's own sake or for that of good friends."  FRANKL, 1992

The second point is an important reminder re possible sources for meaning: 
  • in work (doing something significant),
  • in love (caring for another person), and
  • in courage during difficult times.
Sincerely yours



Date as Postmark

Dear Friend


Often, I found Man's Search for Meaning a difficult and disturbing read. Unutterable things are uttered by someone who was totally present throughout the whole of an horrendous experience that many did not survive.

On his release at the end of the war, Frankl was to reflect at length and so the experience was never wasted; he had learned first-hand about the brutal and futile nature of war; he had also learned much about man's inhumanity to man in times of war (and even less explicable to me - in times of peace).  

In addition, Dr. Frankl was well able to marry an autobiographical account of captivity with a theoretical knowledge of psychiatry for the benefit of generations to come. It's worth repeating that Frankl saw Man's Search for Meaning as 'a reflection of the misery of our times' whose very title 'promises much in relation to questions about the meaning of life'.  

In an attempt at an explanation of Logotherapy, I turn to the author's own words as they appear in Part Two of his book, "Logotherapy in a Nutshell".  Here, Frankl - the psychiatrist - compares this method of healing mental distress with psychoanalysis. He sees Logotherapy as 'a method less retrospective and less introspective'.  

This, then, is Frankl's definition of Logotherapy,

"Logotherapy focuses rather on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future.  At the same time, Logotherapy defocuses all the vicious-circle formations and feedback mechanisms which play such a great role in the development of neuroses.  Thus, the typical self-centeredness of the neurotic is broken up instead of being continually fostered and reinforced."

Food for thought?  I rather think so.  

As I bring this third letter to an end, I would remind you that Dr. Viktor Frankl was a survivor just as surely as many of you reading this are survivors. There are a whole host of lessons to be learnt from his story and from the conclusions he reached about humankind's capacity to find meaning in:

  • work (doing something significant),
  • love (caring for another person), and
  • courage during difficult times.

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

Sincerely yours,



 - ends -

5,884 @ 2015-12-26 


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