“If we take man as he is, we make him worse,
but if we take him as he should be,
we make him capable of becoming what he can be.”
In this rare clip from 1972, legendary psychiatrist and Holocaust-survivor Viktor Frankl delivers a powerful message about the human search for meaning — and the most important gift we can give others.
Here is a beautiful excerpt:
If we take man as he really is, we make him worse, but if we overestimate him …. If we seem to be idealists and are overestimating, overrating man, and looking at him that high, here above, you know what happens? We promote him to what he really can be.
So, we have to be idealists in a way because then we wind up as the true, the real realists.
Do you know who has said this? “If we take man as he is, we make you worse, but if we take man, as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be.” This was not my flight instructor. This was not me. This was Goethe. He said this verbally.
Now you will understand why I, in one of my writings once said this is the most apt maxim and motto for any psychotherapeutic activity. If you don’t recognize a young man’s way to meaning, man’s search for meaning, you’ll make it worse, you’ll make him dull, you’ll make him frustrated. You still add and contribute to his frustration.
While, if you presuppose in this man in this so-called criminal law, juvenile delinquent, or drug abuse and so forth, there must be a… What we call? Spark. Yeah, a spark of search for meaning. Let’s recognize this. Let’s presuppose it and then you will elicit it from him, if you will make him become what he, in principle, is capable of becoming.
Still curious? From Frank’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, details his struggle to survive Auschwitz.