Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.Viktor Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning
What happens to a person when they feel their life no longer has purpose?
A Man Called Otto, Tom Hanks’s latest film — based upon a wonderful book, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman — explores that question. (I’m a Backman fan. I’ve read six more of his books since.)
Living alone after retirement, Otto has come to the conclusion that his life is over. Things around him are changing too fast. There’s little room for a man like him — an old-fashioned, by the book rule follower (and enforcer) — anymore. Whatever he had to offer the world, the world no longer wants.
A Man Called Otto brought to mind Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. One’s capacity for resilience and perseverance is dependent upon one’s sense of purpose. Life is worth fighting for when we have something to live for.
What the movie illustrates so well is that our purpose is in our perception. Otto doesn’t find anything new to do. His life is not re-energized by a new hobby or new job. What he finds instead is a new perspective, new people (and a cat) with which to share what he has to offer. As he connects with his neighbors, he begins to re-find purpose and a renewed life all around him.
In the words of Victor Frankl:
For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.Viktor Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning