"The last of human freedoms - the ability to choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances."
- Viktor E. Frankl
Bear with me...I'm gonna get deeper than I normally get with my weekly motivational messages today. A few months ago, a friend and fellow HR blogger, Mike Caracalas, wrote a post about freewill and it reminded me of Viktor Frankl and this quote above. Viktor Frankl was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps in World War II and authored the famous book, Man's Search for Meaning. Even in the darkest of places and the most deplorable conditions, Frankl was able to find meaning in the world around him and find the courage and strength to continue living. In short, life sucked but he was able to make enough sense of the chaos that surrounded him and keep grinding it out.
So many things can be taken from us, done to us, forced on us, stripped from us and attached to us, but our ability to choose our attitude, regardless of what the world is offering us, is something that can never be taken away. The excerpt below is from his book, Man's Search for Meaning, and provides a powerful example of how he was able to find meaning in the middle of a physical and emotional beat down...
"... We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor's arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."
That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.
A thought transfixed me: 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 the 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. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory...."Powerful stuff, eh?