On Turning a Tragedy into a Triumph: A Tribute to Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), M.D., Ph.D.

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Viktor E. Frankl

The Tragic Dimension of Life

At birth, human beings inhabit a “wounded” or damaged world. Humans themselves are also wounded, finite creatures, limited by their natural imperfections. Since imperfect humans live in an imperfect world, it cannot always be changed, despite all the advances of science.

If science had a solution for every human problem, could fix everything that is wrong with the world, heal ever kind of disease and prevent death itself, then science itself would take on a savior-like or divine-like status, virtually making it into God. However, since science can neither cure every disease nor conquer death itself, then science is neither God nor Savior of humankind.

Therefore, in an imperfect world with human imperfections, it is not always possible for every condition to be changed; nor for all diseases to be healed. As Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl writes,

“Caught in a hopeless situation as its helpless victim, facing a fate that cannot be changed, man still may turn his predicament into an achievement and accomplishment at the human level. He thus may bear witness to the human potential at its best, which is to turn tragedy into triumph.”1

Challenged by Life to Change Oneself

Sometimes, perhaps many times, a person “overcomes” a difficulty or problem only by enduring it. In Frankl’s words,

“Facing a fate we cannot change, we are called upon to make the best of it by rising above ourselves and growing beyond ourselves, in a word, by changing ourselves.”2

That is to say, if a person’s problem cannot be changed, after exhausting all possible attempts to change it, then he or she must change his or her attitude toward it and, thereby, become better, that is, a changed person.

Rethinking the Notion of a “Victorious” Life

The “cure,” then, for an incurable disease may be living with it, enduring it. Coping with the problem, having the right kind of attitude toward it, is, in a way, the “victory” over it.

Of course, when life’s problems or difficulties can be changed, they should be. In short, when things change for the worse, a person is challenged to respond to them by making a change for the better in his or her life.

Endnotes

1. Viktor E. Frankl, The Unconscious God (New York, N.Y.: Washington Square Press/ Pocket Books/ Simon and Schuster, Inc., English ed.1975, 1st Washington Square Press printing 1985), pp. 125-126.

2. ———-, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning (New York, N.Y.: Insight Books/ Plenum Press, 1997), p. 142.

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