“These are the times that try men’s souls,” declared Thomas Paine during the American Revolution of the 18th century.
This statement could very well apply to the pandemic the whole world is experiencing now. One inevitably begins to wonder, “Why is this happening? What is the meaning of all this suffering? What have we done to deserve this? Can life still have any meaning under this situation and even afterwards?” Grappling with these questions, I began to realize that we cannot find the answers outside ourselves. We can only turn inward and seek the answers from within.
Then I remembered a book I had read a long time ago, about one man’s search for meaning in the midst of certain death in a Nazi concentration camp.
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who was imprisoned for three years in the infamous Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz, Poland, where an estimated 1.1 million prisoners, mostly Jews, were gassed to death. Anne Frank was also imprisoned there, but she did not survive.
While imprisoned and sometimes tortured, Frankl tried to find meaning in life even in the midst of suffering. His search led him to formulate a philosophical and psychological method of healing called Logotherapy, which literally means “healing through meaning.” After his survival in the concentration camp, he wrote the book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” which made him world famous. The book has sold millions of copies and is considered one of the 10 most influential books in the United States by the Library of Congress. The basic principles of Logotherapy are as follow:
1) “Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.”
2) “Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.”
3) “We have freedom to find meaning in what we do and experience, or at least in the instance we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.” Power to choose
What the whole Philippine population is suffering from, under threat of death by viral infection, is nothing compared to what Frankl experienced in Auschwitz.
He lost his wife, father, mother and brother in the concentration camps.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves,” said Frankl. “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.”
So, how do we find meaning or sense in this seemingly meaningless and nonsensical situation we find ourselves in?
I think what Frankl is telling us in his book is that each and every individual must seek his own meaning or understanding of whatever situation he finds himself in. No one can give such meaning except himself.
For me, the present pandemic had to happen. It was inevitable. It is a way for planet Earth to heal itself. It stopped human activities that hurt the natural environment. I have read reports that in some Western countries, the rate of pollution has drastically gone down, something that could not happen before. That’s only one example. It has made us realize we can contribute something positive to save our dying planet. By our sacrifices, we are contributing tremendously to our planet’s recovery. Isn’t that meaningful enough? INQ