Viktor Frankl was a prisoner of war in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. In his book entitled, Man's Search for Meaning, he describes one day when der Herr Kommandant lined all the prisoners up in formation and announced a list of "crimes" which would be punishable by immediate death by hanging. These included such "infractions" as cutting your blanket into strips to make ankle straps because your ankles were too weak to stand on.
Then, about two hours later, he called them into formation again and announced that two potatoes had been stolen from the camp kitchen. If the prisoners did not give the offenders up to the tender mercies of the Gestapo, the whole camp would starve for the day. Naturally, the entire camp preferred to fast.
On the evening of this day of fasting, they lay in their earthen huts, in a very low mood, when suddenly the lights went out. The Senior Block Warden asked Frankel to give the prisoners a talk to raise their spirits. "God knows," Frankl said, he was in no mood to cheer anybody up. But he knew he had to try.
He began by pointing out that the reason that most of the people around them were dying was not becauseof the starvation or the poor working conditions; it was because they had given up hope. Even in this Europe in the second in the sixth winter of the Second World War, he went on, most people could find some reason for hope. He estimated his own chances at about one in twenty, he frankly admitted.. But it was always possible that he could be transferred to a camp with unusually favorable working conditions, for such was the luck of the prisoner. Friends and family could be restored, fortunes could be regained, professions could be resumed, and anyone could find some reason for hope. When the lights came on again, people were limping toward him with tears in their eyes to shake his hand. He knew by the strength of their emotion that he had come upon something of great significance.
At the conclusion of the war, when Frankl had resumed his practice, he began to ask his clients why they did not kill him themselves. One client might say that he was writing a book that he had to finish, another might state that because it was because he dearly loved his family, and so on. This gave Frankl a central point around which his patients would be able to organize their lives, and it provided the foundation for his therapy.
Today, research has confirmed that people who have a reason for living are much happier and live longer than those who do not. Moreover, the influence of Eastern thought has also helped to balance what many have considered to be an excessive emphasis on materialistic values.
Resources are currently available to help us discover meaning and purpose in our own lives. The folks at www.smartrecovery.org have several forms available which may be of help in deciding just what is important in life and what to go after. They include a hierarchy of values, for helping you to find which values are most important to you; a values and goals clarification list for identifying goals; a decision-making worksheet for weighing the benefits and costs of making a particular change; and a change plan worksheet for help in charting a course to achieve your goals. The information may be downloaded free of charge by using the print command on your computer, although donations are encouraged.
The importance of having a set of ideals to live by is also shown in the following poem, which General MacArthur kept on the wall of his office to guide him during the darkest days of World War Two.
We Grow Old by Deserting Our Ideals