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“What alone is ‘the last of human freedoms’ – is the ability to ‘choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”
Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist and a Jew who lived during the Nazi regime in Germany. He, along with his entire family, was sent to Nazi concentration camps. He ended up in Auschwitz, one of the most dreaded WWII camps.
Except for his sister and himself, his entire family perished in one of those sites. Every possession was taken from them, and the Jews who weren’t shot or sent to the gas chamber endured years of unspeakable horror.
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote:
“In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitives of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen…”
As a psychiatrist, physician, and author, he was now a student in the cruelest of life’s classrooms, struggling to survive physically, mentally, and spiritually.
He discovered that men could be compassionate to others who were dying and that apathy “…could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physic stress.”
Why is this important to you and me today?
For one, it puts into perspective the problems we may be experiencing.
And for another, it is important to understand that nothing can take away our ability to choose our responses to whatever life throws at us. In the midst of unimaginable conditions, Frankl evidenced the indomitable human spirit. He discovered that prisoners faced with death and unexpected daily torture could focus their minds on things that were good.
They could even see the beauty of God’s earth around them. They could “rise above any situation even if only for a few seconds” when they found and expressed humor. He and another prisoner daily invented at least one amusing story to share with each other.
We make choices every minute of the day.
In fact, we cannot not choose. When we accept what is happening, we are then able to make conscious decisions as to how we will respond. We can choose to respond with anger and resentment or retreat into fear and anxiety.
Or we can choose to find meaning in what is happening, for it isn’t the situation that is as important as how we react to it.
We may be going through what seems like overwhelming circumstances. But we can learn and identify with those prisoners who “…were able to retreat from their terrible surrounds to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom.”
Finding meaning in suffering
Frankl discovered that those who would have a chance to survive were those “who held on to a vision of the future.” They had to find meaning in the suffering itself. We can also find meaning and purpose in whatever we are facing. And we can decide on a response that will enable us to learn, benefit and rise above any situation.
Choose love – choose life – choose an attitude that rises above your circumstances.
Whatever you focus on, that is where your energy will go. That energy force can be either positive or negative. We choose where to place it.
Will that be a force of hatred, resentment, and revenge or a vitality force of patience, commitment, and love?
Choice frees us to look for positive, productive ways to use our power.
When we understand that we always have alternatives, it inspires us to keep looking for possibilities and opportunities. This attitude encourages problem-solving and negotiation while offering grace to ourselves and others.
Whatever situation you find yourself, you are the one who chooses how you will respond.
You can live by your principles and values or simply remain reactive.
You can explore alternatives and communicate your needs, wants, and desires and offer the same respect to others.
Read Marlene’s story in Heaven Touching Earth: True Stories of Angels, Miracles, and Heavenly Encounters, stories compiled by James Stuart Bell of people’s encounter of God in tough times. Available on Amazon.com.