Merton & Frankl: Meaning & Responsibility

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Thomas Merton Plaque, Louisville (Photo Source: I.W. Marsh)

The following quote, from the Cistercian Monk Thomas Merton, on responsibility and meaning could easily have been written by the Psychiatrist and Founder of Logotherapy, Viktor Frankl:

“In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for ‘finding himself.’ If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence”.

As a Logotherapist, I understand that the ‘meaning of our own existence’ functions at two different levels: proximate meaning and ultimate meaning.  The former can vary from day to day and hour by hour and can be characterised, among many other things, by fulfilling relationships or a purposeful career. The latter represents a higher order of meaning, which underpins the proximate, and has been described by Frankl in ‘Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning’ as the ‘unconscious desire for inspiration or revelation’.

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Prof. Viktor Frankl (Photo Source: Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely)

Frankl, like Merton understand that free will, or the freedom to make a stand, is mirrored by an individual’s absolute responsibility to respond to life’s questions and to chart a unique path in line with their calling and individual values.

Frankl and Merton have much in common; their understanding of love, responsibility and meaning show a degree of sophistication and insight that is enhanced by their divergent backgrounds and unique experiences.

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