About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

12. - 525.)  Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl – Reading the book took me back to 2nd year university when I studied the Philosophy of Religion with Father Joseph Bisztyo and he introduced me to Dr. Frankl and his remarkable observations on life based on his experiences in the concentration camps during WW II.
    He states each person in the boxcars lived with the “delusion of reprieve” that he and his friend would not be selected for extermination. Even on the train to the death camps they had hope.
    At camp he spoke of three phases in reacting to camp life:
1.) Shock – The physical humiliations (shaving the body, taking all personal effects, the miserable   living conditions);
2.) Relative apathy – An uncaring attitude to the cruelty of the   guards and Capos and the suffering of other inmates developed. Being insensitive let inmates endure the regular and random beatings; and,
3.) Depersonalization – On release the inmates found ordinary life a dream. They struggled with anger, bitterness and disillusionment. Eventually they realized that their suffering meant they need fear nothing but God.
    Befriending a Capo and letting him tell of his marital troubles was important to Frankl’s survival because it meant slightly better working conditions and food (peas from the bottom of the soup pans). Every morsel was important for the chronic lack of food meant body fat would be used up and the body would begin to devour itself. They became experts in assessing when a fellow inmate would die of starvation.
   The indifference to suffering and dying reminded me of the soldiers in Frontsoldaten who casually watched Jews and other ordinary Russians killed on the Eastern Front. The de-sensitization of inmates and soldiers robbed them of their empathy towards their fellow man. This process was quickly and brutally accomplished in the East during WW II. To mentally survive it is easier if emotions die.
    It is easy for lawyers to become cynical, to fail to see people as individuals, to become hardened to the problems of clients. It is at a severe cost to our spiritual and emotional well being to become so detached. Life within concentration camps was corrosive to the human spirit. With life distilled to its essence in the camps we can apply Frankl’s observations to our lives. 
   The level of de-sensitization was lower on the Western Front where Allied soldiers and citizens remained humans to Nazis. Still there was no difference in the camps for the Jews from the West. Frankl came from Vienna.
   Amidst the apathy of the many were some inmates who retained their “spiritual freedom” comforting others and giving up some food. Their example shows everyone has the choice of retaining dignity while suffering.
    Frankl thought, in the final days of the war, he was both sacrificing himself when he volunteered to go to a “rest camp” with typhus patients and saving himself as he was relieved of exhausting physical work. Random chance kept him with the patients left behind when the camp was being “evacuated”. He survived because the “rest camp” conditions were slightly less harsh and he was not among those chosen in the last camp selection for “evacuation” and then killed.
    In difficult circumstances we can find deeper meaning to life or descend to being no more than an animal fighting for survival - the saints and swine of the camps. A dying inmate cheerfully faced her death saying she was grateful that the brutal camp life had forced her spoiled pre-camp self to “take spiritual accomplishments seriously”.
    The “most depressing influence” was their indefinite imprisonment. There was no end date except death. It was destructive to live in the past and any prisoner who lost “faith in the future – his future – was doomed”.
    I try to convince clients that what seem open ended court proceedings will come to a conclusion. It is not a journey without end. There will be a solution and a good life beyond the resolution.
    Frankl said it “does not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us”. If suffering is your task in life it is necessary to face it with dignity. All life has meaning. He said those with religious faith understood their sacrifice.
    I still remember Father Bisztyo saying Frankl observed Christians and Communists doing the best of the groups in surviving the camps because they had strong beliefs and motivations guiding their lives.
    The last section of the book discusses logotherapy, his form of psychotherapy, which focuses on helping people find meaning in their lives. He discusses a mental exercise in which you are imagine you are 80 and ask yourself what will I say about my life.
    What gives meaning in my life? I would say in descending importance – family, church, work, sports, community, books, clubs and computer. The meaning changes depending on the time and circumstances of the day or week or month or year.
    Frankl addresses outside the camp experience the meaning of life in the midst of suffering. Suffering is unavoidable during life. To face suffering with dignity gives meaning to life. We admire those who face adversity with courage. For Christians we have the inspiration of Jesus. In suffering our inner cores are revealed.
    In 150 pages Frankl wrote a profound treatise. (Mar. 12/10)
(Most interesting of 2010)


  1. A powerful post. I always appreciate the professor's who focus at least a bit on the moral and philosophical underpinnings of the law. Sadly I think a lot of students seemed to get stressed out by teaching that deviates from the test so this focus is lacking. That said, sadly my experience working with sla there is no doubt in my mind that one can be a better lawyer if they treat their clients with dignity and looks at them as a person and not just a problem that needs to be solved.

  2. Mike: Thanks for the comment. Frankl affirmed my conviction that lawyers must work to give clients hope for the future.