Life can be harsh and a person can be born into a place of great suffering that finding meaning and purpose is an impossible thing. Their minds continuously revolve around survival and safety, that they can’t think about anything else.
In such hopeless situations it is tempting to resign yourself to fate and live bitterly. But psychiatrist Victor Frankl suggested a better way. He encouraged us to find meaning and purpose in our suffering. He said:
“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Yes, it is so much easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. When Frankl was sentenced to the Nazi’s concentration camp, he observed that “When the external conditions are as desperate and hopeless as they can get, one can still find salvation by looking inward, and that even in the oppressive and soul-crushing environment of the concentration camp, one could still make a choice. Apathy could be defeated, spiritual and intellectual freedom could be maintained, and one’s sense of humanity could be preserved.”
He then wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that 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, to choose one’s own way.”
The harsh truth of life is that sometimes suffering is inevitable, but luckily as human beings we are endowed with the power of choice. We can choose to change the meaning of our suffering and come out stronger from it.
Such is the power of man’s will.
But let me make it perfectly clear that in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering—provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic. Don’t be like those protagonists in Indonesian drama series who for unknown reasons chose to put themselves in sufferable situations. (marrying a bad guy, getting involved with a bad mother in laws, etc). Be smart and choose your battle wisely.
Victor Frankl once said, “there are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one’s work or to enjoy one’s life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end.”
In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering.
In our next post we are going to talk about the nature of human suffering and what we can do about it. Stay tuned by leaving your email in the subscribe box below. By doing so you will also get my two signature Ebook (Zoe Life and Zoe Challenge) for free.