How I chose to show valid the claim that I made in my previous post that we have the freedom to choose our Attitudes is to cite an extreme example of someone who chose to keep a positive Attitude despite having every reason to have a bad, negative and depressed Attitude.
As I read Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, two things became quite clear from the very beginning:
1. He was focusing not on why so many died but on why any at all survived.
2. Looking in my rear view mirror back over 30 years, I still see that being trapped on a rehab floor where most of us were never expected to walk, talk understandably or drive again had one key thing in common with being trapped in a German concentration camp.
That common denominator was the stench of hopeless despair. In the concentration camps, cigarettes were used most often to trade for coupons that could be exchanged for soup, “which was often a very real respite from starvation.” Prisoners who worked as trustees for the Nazi guards were paid in slightly more lenient treatment and in cigarettes. When a prisoner was seen smoking, his comrades would know he had lost faith in his ability to carry on and had decided to enjoy, as best he could, his last few days. “Once lost, the will to live seldom returned.”
On the rehab floor, there were periods when hope or good humor would flair up, but these times were rare. When you’re talking about a rehab floor full of formerly healthy, active people facing a life of dependence on mechanical devices, the kindness of others and government aid, it’s perhaps easy to understand the despair that filled the rooms and hallways.
A further similarity that struck me as I read this autobiographical account of one who endured the inconceivable atrocities of living in a concentration camp, one of Frankl’s themes, is that: Life is not a quest for pleasure like Freud believed or a quest for power as Alfred Adler taught. Frankl believed that life’s purpose is to find meaning in one’s existence.
Frankl saw three possible sources of meaning:
· Work, doing something significant.
· Love, caring for another person.
· Having Courage during the difficult times.
The reason these three sources of meaning stood out to me is because they are surprisingly similar to the three sources of meaning at the core of the stories and experiences that I share. Without taking the time here to share anything but the bare roots of my content, I will leave it for the reader to see whatever parallels he or she will:
· Accept the book you’ve been given, (Live until you die.)
· Believe you can write a happy ending. (Lighten up!)
· Care about others.
Suffering, in and of itself, being in a concentration camp or on a rehab floor, is meaningless. We can give meaning to our sufferings only by how we respond to them.
Frankl writes that a person “may remain brave, dignified and unselfish or in the bitter fight for self preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal.” He admits that only a few Nazi prisoners were able to retain their dignity, “but even one example” he says “is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.”
The most meaningful and relevant quote I found in Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is:
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to control how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can control what you will feel and do in response to what happens to you.”
In other words: My Attitude is my Choice.