Provocation to Meaning, (inspired by Langle and Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning)
This formed part of a portfolio for a course on Logotherapy. For Frankl, meaning has an element of a unique demand that is made on us by the situations we find ourselves in over the course of a lifetime. So this kind of turns the idea of “meaning” into something a little different to our usual ideas. It is something with which we enter into a dialogue, in the words of Langle (2003): “the capacity for dialogue is a characteristic of being a person (i.e., a being with mind and spirit and a potential for decision making.” Since we are beings who are dialogical we look for something or someone who “speaks” to us, calls us, needs us, talks to us, looks for us, challenges us. This element of provocation then emerges from everything that confronts, challenges or engages us. This being provoked means we are called.
So then this unique demand or call from a place of value creates a moral imperative to act in a personally responsible and accountable way. Each situation requires that we do or be something. This speaks to our conscience and provokes us to “do the one thing that is required.” Meaning for Frankl is not found like a gold coin under a rock, it is something given to us.
We can think of meaning as unfolded as we live our lives and are provoked to meaning and towards self-transcendence in this meaning. This meaning then is beyond and ahead of us pointing to a future. Frankl once defined meaning as: “a possibility against a background of reality”. 
For Frankl conscience is something spiritual and transcendent which has universal and timeless significance. Therefore, it seems to suggest that life’s meaning exists a priori, waiting to be discovered. Perhaps it is enfolded waiting to be opened, (this could also be too much poetic licence here). This makes me think of e. e cummings:
“Somewhere I have never traveled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which I cannot touch because they are too near.
Your slightest look easily will enclose me
though I have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose.”
Langle, (2003) talks about a meaningful existence that is characterised by “inner consent” which relates to what we do, commit ourselves to, or leave out. This continuous consensual activity has a two-sided dialogue – one external characterised by questions like: “What appeals to me? What attracts or challenges me? Where am I needed or what do I want to do in this situation?” The other side of this dialogue goes around whether I agree with my decision. If inwardly, I have said yes then there will be harmony between inner experience and outer action.
Let’s look forward with hope then that we are all provoked to meaning to the “most worthwhile (the one of greatest value) and realistic possibility present in a given situation and one for which we feel we should decide. “ (Langle, 2003:19).
A meaningless life by contrast could be filled with trivial pursuits, such as seeking wealth, power, popularity, without an awareness of the richness of meaning. This could be characterised by depression, cruelty, sadism, anger and aggression amongst other things.
How do we experience meaning in life?
In three ways in Frankl’s view:
- Goals or projects – creative values
- Through love and loved ones – experiential
- Through a right attitude to life and the tragic triade: pain, guilt and death – having the right attitude – attitudinal.
 In Langle 2003: 34. The Art of Involving the Person.
 Reference for Cummings: www.k-b-c.com/poetry_eec.htm (Accessed 05/05/2012).
Frankl, V. (1963). Man’s Search for Meaning.
Langle, A. (2003). The Art of Involving the Person – Fundamental Existential Motivations as the Structure of the Motivational Process. European Psychotherapy, Vol. 4, No. 1.
Image from Creative Market purchased Epilogue Presentation.