Vision Overcomes Hardship in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor E. Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning introduced me to the writing of Viktor E. Frankl, a 20th century psychiatrist and holocaust survivor. In the mood for seeking larger meaning, vision, and an inspiration for a recent testimonial for overcoming adversity with psychological strength, I was drawn to Frankl‘s best-selling work.

I found the reminders and echoing of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard in the treatment of Frankl‘s Man’s Search for Meaning reassuring. Frankl builds his logotherapy with an awareness of Kierkegaard‘s will to meaning. That Frankl further counterpoints Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler by arguing not for drives of pleasure or power but for meaning strikes me as a truly remarkable accomplishment.

Mans Search for Meaning 2(Viktor E. Frankl)

The book itself starts first with not so much of Frankl‘s experiences in the concentration camps throughout Europe during World War II as an exploration of some of the personality profiles of those that experienced the concentration camps. The editorial consideration here was not as much to downplay personal narratives of those that had come. The decision was to offer something different.

Man’s Search for Meaning then introduced the psychiatry of logotherapy. The edition that I was reading was a later version that aimed to make modifications based on the learning and growth within this branch of psychiatry, which again advanced upon focusing on meaning rather than “not the drive to sex or pleasure, as Freud theorized, or power, as Nietzsche and Adler argued” (www.goodtherapy.org).

Friedrich Nitezsche was a philosopher in his own right that focused in no small part on human drives and passions as central to a meaningful human experience.

Mans Search for Meaning 3(People define meaning!)

A powerful aid and benefit that I took from Man’s Search for Meaning came with the exploration of logotherapy. In discussing self-actualization and experiencing meaning, Frankl mentioned three different ways to discover meaning:

  1. By creating a work or doing a deed.
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone.
  3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

The first of those is self-explanatory. Offering the world a new thing like a smartphone, or a best-selling book, or the means for two friends that later become husband and wife, are examples.

The second could involve experiencing the goodness of an act of kindness, the truth of an uplifting statement of gratitude, or the beauty of the autumn colors as leaves change from green to golden, brown, or red. Loving another person offers meaning and connection of its own.

When facing circumstances that you cannot change and which cause tangible pain, anxiety, or both, your approach to that pain can transform the experience of suffering into bearing witness to that pain and transforming it into a human achievement. The example Frankl offered on this score was that of an aging medical doctor who had been suffering greatly after his deceased had died. There was comforted when he realized that his wife’s passing first meant she would not suffer the grief that he was feeling.

I came away with the reward of new insight and encouragement. Viktor E. Frankl further rewarded me with a deeper structural understanding of psychiatry along with distinctions between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.  I give Man’s Search for Meaning 4-stars out of 5.

Matt – Sunday, October 15, 2017

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Hearing the President Elect of Toastmasters speak…in person

Does seeing the President Elect of Toastmasters International speak sound interesting to you? What if I said that the leader of an organization of more than 345,000 people in 142 countries was coming to speak? Might you listen to that?

Would you want to see this gentleman speaker from the island country of Sri Lanka? What if I mentioned that this man would speak about how his country gained independence from Great Britain after World War II? Perhaps he will talk about how Sri Lanka recently freed itself of the ugliness of a 30-year Civil War in less than ten years ago. Would hearing about his experiences surviving the Indian Ocean tsunami and earthquake of 2012 interest you?

President Elect of TM 3

Today, I get to hear Balraj Arunasalam, Distinguished Toastmaster and president of an organization serving almost 350,000 others and me speak in my community about leadership, communication, service, and possibly some of the life experiences that formed his passion for all three of those interests.

President Elect of TM 2

Today’s events bring Mr. Arunaslam from Sri Lanka to my midwestern US community. For a volunteer organization in 142 countries, you can imagine that visiting us is a significant event. In addition to a keynote speech of more than an hour, Mr. Arunasalam will perform another hour of education for our club. Other educational events will be included in the day. A minting of Distinguished Toastmasters occurs today, as does a pair of contests for an area serving more than 100 of the over 15,000 clubs in the larger Toastmasters organization.

As a person that has spoken about Toastmasters International before, today is an exciting day.

Matt – Saturday, April 29, 2017

Luke Dittrich explores chilling questions of moral ambiguity in his book Patient H.M.

Luke Dittrich explores chilling questions of moral ambiguity in his book Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets. As revealed in the biography of Dittrich by Penguin Random House, Patient H.M. largely tells the “true story of Henry Molaison, an amnesic who became the most studied human research subject ever.”

The book extends the exposition into Dittrich‘s grandfather, Dr. William Scoville. The book delves into much of the history of “psycho-surgeries” (read lobotomies) that Scoville and Walter Jackson Freeman II promoted widely and spread with enthusiasm through the 1940s and some of the 1950s. The book Patient H.M. shares how Molaison was lobotomized by Scoville as a “culmination of a long period of human experimentation that…[Dr. William Scoville]…and other leading doctors and researchers had been conducting in hospitals and asylums around the country.” This August 9, 2016 New York Times article is the source of that quote.

Dittrich‘s book explains that Scoville was in part motivated to find a cure for his first wife; Scoville’s wife at this point (there were two) was Dittrich’s biological grandmother. The book confirms that Scoville performed surgery on Molaison, most likely the wife that would later divorce him, and an estimate of thousands of other patients as well. That this was done with the ostensible support of the American medical establishment, even after the legal and ethical condemnations to human experimentation in Nuremburg following World War II, shocks me. See this Doctor’s Trial link for more details. Patient H.M. explores this subject in enough detail that the reader is left to struggle with the ethical mortification imbued in Dittrich’s exploration.

The book goes into some of the history Dr. Suzanne Corkin of MIT, who studied Henry Molaison as a patient for more than 50-years. (Understand that Molaison underwent the lobotomy as an epilepsy patient in his 20s, and lived into his 70s). It was through much of Corkin’s research that awareness of the way memory works in the human mind became known. Dittrich asks some pointed questions about the raw data underpinning Corkin’s research, what she had to gain from information she kept or did not, and the ownership of Molaison’s brain (and the work product governing it) after Molaison’s death.

Patient H.M. is described in this Amazon book listing as a “biography, memoir, and science journalism” book, which is where it aims and largely lands. The storytelling does demand a certain degree of focus from the reader. Many threads of the narrative tend to get explored for periods of time, dropped, and then reappear. I’ve seen commentary from neuroscientists that indicate some of Dittrich’s knowledge is lacking, though the level of information worked for my tastes as a person not trained in medical science.

I came away with more insight into memory and the different ways that it works. The larger stories of Molaison, Scoville, neuroscience in the 20th century, and the meaning this had to Dittrich‘s family, fascinated me. The ethical questions around informed consent and the lines between the research and practice in medicine, trouble me. Upon finishing Patient H.M., my interest in a deeper dive on that last subject.

I would read this book again; I recommend that others read it. My rating is 3.5-stars out of 5, mostly owing to my interest in the subject matter coupled with the author not having taken a firmer stand about his own personal feelings surrounding the morality of his grandfather’s actions.

Matt – Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day delivers quiet despair of an English way

Kazuo Ishiguro‘s The Remains of the Day delivers quiet despair of an English way. The full effect was subtly delivered through demonstration, seeing truths the central players in some ways denied to themselves, and the role of place or station in stratifying the professional and personal experiences of dignity. The story culminates in some long overdue self-introspection, the many layers of a faded or lost glory, of yesterday.

The narrative and expressions of the butler James Stevens ostensibly took into account his professional perspective of the butler profession in England as Stevens looks back on his career, and the fate of England, in a past that takes place against the backdrops of fascism, two world wars, and an unrealized love between Stevens and the housekeeper known throughout much of this story as Miss Sarah Kenton.

For an American audience familiar with the novel made movie Forrest Gump, The Remains of the Day follows along with an unreliable narrator that really misses much of the significance of the life around him. Stevens, as Ishiguro’s sad foil in this reality. The questions for Stevens, and Lord Darlington in the service of England, and for England, France, Germany, and to a lesser extent America within the fate of Europe, would include answering questions like these:

What is dignity? What is greatness? How do you define your purpose? What are the proper roles of nobility, compassion, and love in the emerging norms of society? To a certain extent, how do you come to grips with these after realizing that you’ve lost your chance to stake your claim on these? How do you then move on?

The telling of these questions were beautifully taken in The Remains of the Day. I personally felt more heartbreak for Mr. Stevens, Miss Kenton, the house servants separated owing to religious bigotry, and Mr. James Stevens’ father more than I felt these for Lord Darlington, the doctor in the village where the sedan was without gas for an evening, or the colleagues of Lord Darlington that took the butler Stevens to task that day.

the-remains-of-the-day-2

Many would find the story telling slow. Others still would find the unreliable narrator unpleasant,  off-putting, and lacking in self awareness. That there is a redemption, an awakening of sorts, for the narrator at the resolution is the payoff for those with the patience to persevere so worth it.

My overall rating of this novel is 4-stars out of 5. While difficult for an American audience, I ultimately fell for The Remains of the Day. Why? Kazuo Ishiguro‘s The Remains of the Day delivers quiet despair of an English way.

Matt – Sunday, February 26, 2017

Elie Wiesel’s “Night” is psychologically graphic and necessary

Elie Wiesel’s Night was an emotionally difficult book to read. The psychological torture of Wiesel’s experience, and so many others like him that had it as bad or worse (not sure what might be worse … American slavery seems at least similar in context and cruelty). That this happened during the lifetime of people I grew up loving brings this particular account and atrocity closer to home; that is likely about anchoring.

The legitimate nightmare and anguish of Elie Wiesel’s experience is psychologically graphic and horrifying. Descriptions including psychologically graphic and horrifying make this book both a necessary and compelling reading. It’s a bit disappointing that my seventh-grade class had us read Seth McEvoy’s Batteries Not Included. This isn’t to diminish McEvoy’s effort; my point is that seventh grade seems like a reasonable time to expose children to questions involving historical and emotional literacy.

For illuminating something for scrutiny that needs to be seen, this book earns 4.5-stars. That the brutality indicated by Wiesel in Night occurred really spells out the crime of what Erik Larson wrote about in his book In the Garden of Beasts.

Matt – Monday, February 6, 2017

Positive feedback for Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin

In In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, Erik Larson recounts the career of the American Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, particularly the years 1933 to 1937 when he and his family, including his daughter Martha, lived in Berlin. The book draws out the tension and intrigue of place and period well, including the romances of Martha.

Similar in appeal to the writing of Michael Lewis (see my recent review of The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds), Larson focused on individual people in drawing out a bigger sense of the core subject matter. Unlike Lewis’ accomplishments that lacked a sense of place but had a clear sense of people, In the Garden of Beasts succeeded on both accounts. Place and people were seen in full color in their humanity.

William Dodd earned his Ph.D. in Leipzig many, many years in advance of his ambassadorship. While Dodd clearly hoped to influence Germany’s new Nazi government to take a comparatively more moderate path than it did, the truth is that he saw firsthand persecution of Jews during his stay; he took no effective steps to foment opposition to that persecution during his stay. Some have argued that Dodd was a bit too fond of his youthful memories from Leipzig, which in turn played a hand in his inability to see clear warning signs of impending peril earlier.

Martha, separated from her husband and in the process of divorce, became caught up in the glamor and excitement of Berlin’s social scene. Her romantic affairs were front and center, including a relationship with Soviet attaché and secret agent Boris Vinogradov. She defended the Soviet regime to her skeptical friends. After William Dodd returned to America and took ill with the condition that would take his life early during World War Two, it was Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels who would use this and other romantic endeavors by Martha to attack the service of her father.

The assessments of Dodd’s effectiveness during the build-up of the Nazi war machine are largely poor. Larson takes largely this view in sharing this story and level-setting early on that Dodd was no hero in the larger affairs. U.S. Consul to Berlin alongside Dodd seeks to take some of the sting out of the valid criticism leveled at the former ambassador; that he is compared unfavorably to similar ambassadors to Germany from France and England, while not explicitly stated by Larson, is clearly implied by the tone of this book.

In demonstrating the feel and time of Berlin from 1933 to 1937 so well, my sense is that Larson did well to demonstrate how basically no one believed that Adolf Hitler would last long as a German leader. The relative ease with which he gained that leadership and reformed the form of Germany’s government with the tacit approval of the German populace is skillfully done. That the first maybe forty percent of the book is used to lay the groundwork of a very human telling to one family’s perspective on the Nazi buildup may be off putting for some readers. My recommendation is to stick with the book.

My recommendation is to read this book; I further feel that readers under the age of 30, especially if not married or not parents, would be less inclined to enjoy this book than some one that fits one or both descriptions. My rating is 4-stars out of five.

Matt – Thursday, January 12, 2017

Remembering the Scoop of the Century

The celebration of her 105-years on planet Earth last October would be plenty of reason to have taken note of British journalist Clare Hollingsworth. The BBC informed the world today that Hollingsworth, the war correspondent who broke the news that Nazi Germany had invaded Poland to start World War II, passed away today in Hong Kong.

Per the BBC report, Hollingsworth’s telling in The Daily Telegraph first had it that “1,000 tanks massed on Polish border. Ten divisions reported ready for swift strike.” When Germany invaded three days later, Hollingsworth added the second half of her scoop that, for the significance within the course of human affairs, was not hyperbole in being called “the scoop of the century.”

daily-telegraph

Hollingsworth continued to report from Poland during the second Great War of the 20th century, and later reported from Hungary, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt. Further reporting from the Middle East only added to her reputation, which led to an interview with the Shah of Iran. It is reported that the BBC recognized that Hollingsworth’s “depth of technical, tactical and strategic insight set her apart” as a war correspondent.

Eyewitnesses to history from the 1930s are growing scarcer and scarcer. Books like Anthony Doerr’s fictional All the Light We Cannot See, as discussed on this blog, can help us remember the feelings and history of the past.

https://mattlynndigital.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/the-year-in-reading-2016-part-1-five-favorites/

While I am thankful for that connection to the past as presented by Doerr, and others, it is hard not to feel like a more tangible connection was lost today.

Matt – Tuesday, January 10, 2017