Tag Archive for: Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Need to Add Meaning

Over the years I’ve watched many of the Ken Burns PBS documentaries while running on my treadmill. I started with The War (WWII), and then it was on to Prohibition, The Dust Bowl, The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz, and most recently The Roosevelts. If you’ve never seen any of them I can’t encourage you enough to check them out because they are amazing!

I must admit, I’m not much of a baseball fan but the storytelling from the narrator and interviewees were so compelling and the players so interesting in that series, that I found myself excited every day to learn more about the history of the sport. Something that really stood out was the importance so many people put on the game of baseball as well as the meaning and significance they attached to America’s national pastime.

When it comes to necessity, I think it’s safe to say the local grocery store, corner gas station, a nearby hospital, your town’s fire department, banks and any number of other businesses or institutions are far more important to daily life than baseball. If baseball were gone tomorrow many people would be upset, would miss it terribly but life would go on pretty much as it does during the baseball offseason. However, without some of the institutions noted above, life would be much more difficult, dangerous and perhaps deadly in a matter of days in some cases.

So why is a sport like baseball so important to so many people? I think much of it has to do with the meaning we ascribe to it and the significance we attach to the game, its players, and the statistics. This line of thinking was driven home as I read the following from Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind, in which he quoted a prominent linguist, George Lakoff:

“‘A large part of self-understanding,’ says Lakoff, ‘is the search for appropriate personal metaphors that make sense of our lives.’ The more we understand metaphor, the more we understand ourselves.”

In his most famous work, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl shared his life experience having survived three years in four different Nazi concentration camps. He believed he could translate the pain he endured into a meaningful life where he helped others.

It’s a subtle, yet important difference: drawing meaning from what you’ve personally experienced versus something else like a sport. But in the end it’s the same desire – we want to know that our lives have meaning and significance. It’s inevitable that sometimes we attach more meaning to some things than perhaps they deserve. From the Burns’ series on baseball here are some examples:

Willie Mays is known more for his famous over the shoulder catch than any other play. It took incredible skill to cover as much ground as he did then essentially make a blind catch over his left shoulder. People who saw it swore nobody else could have made that catch. Spectacular? Yes! Impossible for anyone else? Doubtful.

When the Dodgers and Giants left New York it seemed disastrous! Fans were outraged and felt betrayed but the sun came up the next day and has every day for 60+ years. Life continued on just as it had before baseball. Their well-being and significance wasn’t as wrapped up in a team as they thought.

It was thought that no one else could have done what Jackie Robinson did. What he did was heroic, considering all that was going on in society and he is to be admired for his courage to step into the situation becoming the first black player in the majors. But if it were not Jackie, someone would have eventually taken on that role.

This post in no way is meant to diminish baseball or any of its heroes. In fact, quite the opposite for me because I haven’t been as drawn to the game as I was watching the series, since I was an adolescent.

However, sometimes we attach too much significance to things, people, and events and that choice ends up hurting us. If your favorite team fails to win the big game or championship it stinks but life goes on. Or if a hero turns out to be something different than what we thought (Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Pete Rose, etc.) it devastates some people. To allow any of these situations to do more than give you a bad day or memory is to give it more power over your life than it deserves.

People, places and things do not define us. We define ourselves and that means we can narrate our own stories. So I’ll leave you with this question – What story are you writing?

The Immediate Influence of Behavior

Have you ever read Viktor Frankl’s classic work Man’s Search for Meaning? If you haven’t I can’t recommend it enough! It’s one of the most impacting books I’ve ever read. Despite the sobering description of life in Nazi concentration camps the book has sold more than 12 million copies since it was first published in 1946.

I recently suggested the book to several friends, so I decided to reread the book myself…for no less than the sixth time. Each time I go back to it something new jumps out at me and this time the following quote stood out, “The immediate influence of behavior is always more effective than that of words.”

Think about that quote for just a moment. Frankl’s insight from life in with most horrible conditions lines up with other similar observations from other great thinkers.

“Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.” – Aristotle

“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Words do matter because they conjure up images, thoughts and feelings that lead to actions. Frankl acknowledged this when he wrote, “But at times a word was effective too, when mental receptiveness had been intensified by some outer circumstances.” However, as someone who wants to be an effective persuader your words will fall on deaf ears if your words and deeds don’t line up. “Do as I say, not as I do,” won’t cut it. After all, if you don’t believe what you’re saying or you don’t adhere to the principles you espouse then why would anyone else?

Nobody is perfect and people don’t expect you to be perfect. When you fail your best bet is to follow Dale Carnegie’s wisdom, “If you’re wrong admit it quickly and emphatically.” I believe most people are forgiving and many times you’ll actually gain credibility when you own up to your mistakes. This taps into what Robert Cialdini calls the principle of authority and the studies he cites show you can gain trust by admitting weakness or mistakes. The sooner you ‘fess up the better.

I observed this not too long ago when State Auto’s CEO Mike LaRocco interacted with employees across the country in an open forum. Since his arrival last May, Mike has encouraged a culture that embraces candor. During the open forum someone spoke up about fear of reprisal from managers when being candid and Mike made a flippant remark and basically blew off the person’s concern. But almost immediately he caught himself and said his response was wrong. He then proceeded to address the concern. Not only did his actions stand out to me, they stood out to many others I spoke with afterwards. He’s talking the talk and more importantly, he’s walking the walk.

So to come full circle, if you want to be effective when it comes to influencing others start with yourself and remember Frankl’s immortal wisdom, “The immediate influence of behavior is always more effective than that of words.” Be a person of consistency and integrity and you’ll enjoy far more professional success and personal happiness.

Cecil the Lion – Why the Outpouring of Sympathy?

Across the globe there has been outrage expressed over the illegal killing of Cecil the Lion. It’s been front and center in the news and all over social media. It’s led to the outing of the Minnesota dentist, his business address and even death threats. So why is there such outrage over an animal’s death when innocent people are killed every day and some in much more horrific fashion?

We don’t value lions inherently because they’re beautiful creatures. Indeed, not too long ago those who hunted them as big game were revered. President Teddy Roosevelt, an avid hunter, was one such man. We’re concerned about Cecil more because the principle of scarcity alerts us to the reality that we value things more when they’re rare or diminishing.

At this point in time, with lions being an endangered species, we fear losing these creatures for good.

Did you know in Chicago, 238 people have been shot and killed from January through July of this year? Think about that for a moment – 238 people (fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters) dead. Why isn’t there more outrage over that? As the brutal Russian dictator Joseph Stalin once said, “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” The sad reality is we become numb to large numbers.

Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, cites studies that highlight this reality.

It would seem rational that people would give more to help a cause when they realize how big the problem is but that’s not the case. People do not donate as much to a cause when the magnitude is highlighted versus individualizing it. By that I mean, telling people hundreds or thousands of people need help will not be as effective in soliciting donations as highlighting one individual who needs help. We can connect with an individual but highlighting the magnitude of a problem can seem so overwhelming that one person’s effort can’t possibly make much of a difference.

Something else to consider is that humans have a capacity to normalize things like death. Victor Frankl’s classic book Man’s Search for Meaning shows this. A survivor of four different concentration camps, Frankl talks about how he and others became less and less affected by the death and destruction around them.

Had they felt the weight of each death it would have been too overwhelming so their response in many ways was a survival mechanism.

And some people wonder why we would ever care more about an animal than a human. That goes back thousands of years. Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees for healing a man on the Sabbath. He scolded them saying they would pull an ox out of a ditch on the Sabbath but helping a man was far more important.

Lastly, we value some animals more than others because with some animals we have more of a connection. Lions are the “king of the jungle” and have become more than an animal through shows like The Lion King and The Chronicles of Narnia. The same could be said of other animals such as pigs (Miss Piggy from The Muppets or Babe from the movie with the same name) and dogs (man’s best friend).

So what’s the point in this post? Simply to enlighten you a little on the psychology behind the response to Cecil’s death and the questions that are being asked about the deaths of other animals, individuals and groups of people. Our responses to these tragedies don’t always make sense from a logical perspective but it’s how we’re wired.

My Best Parenting Advice Ever!

This week I’m going to share what I consider to be my best parenting advice ever. I only wish I would have figured this out sooner!

I’m the parent of a teenager now. Our daughter, Abigail, will start the 8th grade next week and it’s amazed me how much change has taken place in the last year. Simply incredible! If you have a teenager – or lived through that stage with one – then I’m sure you can relate. Not only are they physically maturing, their likes and dislikes are changing right along with their personalities. One of the biggest challenges is getting them to do what we ask them to do, especially when it’s good for them.

Abigail has always tested very high on standardized tests when it comes to listening. When we read through The Chronicles of Narnia, all seven books, then restarted the series, she amazed me when she asked me to reread a section. I reread a sentence and she said, “I don’t remember that the first time [we read the book].” Bear in mind, we’d read the book months before and she picked out one word she didn’t remember hearing the first time. I share that so you’ll know, she’s got great ears and ability to listen – when she wants to. Therein lies the parenting challenge.

The Dilemma

One day I came home, and she’d left to spend the night at a friend’s house. Unfortunately, she left the house in total disarray. There was Sloppy Joe mix still in the pan, Mac ‘n Cheese in the pot, dishes in the sink. I called her, read her the riot act, and told her there would be a consequence when she came home. Moments later I received a text saying she was sorry and offered up her phone as punishment. I thought, “The criminal doesn’t get to set their sentence,” so I came up with something much better!

I had a book I wanted her to read over the summer, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it. Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist in Germany when WWII broke out. He survived three years in four different concentration camps and wrote about his experience from a clinical point of view. My takeaway from the book was this; no matter what’s taken from us, no one can ever take away our freedom to choose where we will place our thoughts. With that power we are free and can endure almost any hardship. I thought that would be a valuable lesson for Abigail to learn early in life.

The Resolution

When she got home, I told her no TV or computer until she read the book. Of course, she didn’t like that, but I reminded her the discipline would be short if she buckled down and read it in a day or two. On the other hand, it could last quite some time if she dragged her feet and complained. She got through the book in three days and then we talked about it. Now I have a point of reference when she complains because her “hardships” are nothing compared to Frankl’s.

This blog is about influence so you might be wondering how I’m going to tie this into influence. Here’s my influence strategy – I told Abigail next time she disobeyed it would be another book of my choosing. As you can imagine, we don’t share the same taste in books. She’s into the Harry Potter and Twilight series and my preferences are more inclined to learning and self-improvement. I also told her I would set out the next book as a visual reminder. Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive is sitting on the dining room table as I type!


I like to believe at 45 years old I’m still a little smarter than she is even though most teenagers think mom and dad are idiots. I reminded her, “No matter what I win because, either you do what I say, or you’ll be smarter.” Now that’s a win-win for me and whether or not she realizes it, it will be a win for her in the long run too. I encourage you to give it a try!

Brian Ahearn

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, Brian helps clients apply influence in everyday situations to boost results.

As one of only a dozen Cialdini Method Certified Trainers (CMCT) in the world, Brian was personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His latest book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable designed to teach you how to apply influence concepts at home and the office.

Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 500,000 people around the world!