Part I– Viktor Frankl–ON Freedom to Choose One’s Attitude in any Circumstance

Frankl writes: Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although fear and suffering is always present. After discussing the common psychological patterns that unfold in inmates, Frankl is careful to challenge the assumption that human beings are invariably shaped by their circumstances…

He goes on to say: But what about human liberty? Is there no spiritual freedom in regard to behavior and reaction to any given surroundings? … Most important, do the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings? Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?

We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle. The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. … Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

His principle argument on freedom of choice is summed-up by this one statement: “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”.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr.Frankl places this idea of “ freedom to choose one’s attitude in any circumstance” as the core element of our journey through life. For him the notion of everyday choices is at the center of the human experience.

So Frankl believes that every day, every hour, offers the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determines whether you would or would not submit to  demons, fears or self doubts and outside influences which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom. Inner freedom and self-direction determine whether or not you will become the slave of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form that others want you to be or a self-directed and autonomous person choosing daily to craft your own and unique journey based on the notion of “I can” rather than I can’t. Every time we choose to confront our fears, challenge our mental maps and struggle to discover the truth we strike a note for freedom and dignity for all. Frankl recognizes suffering as an essential piece not only of existence but of the meaningful life:

Self-Coaching Challenge:

  1. How in your life are you taking the responsibility to find the right answer to your tasks, suffering and problems confronting you daily?
  2. What constructive action are you willing to take shape a more meaningful and purposeful life beyond your present circumstances?
  3. Given your circumstances are you still able to choose your attitude?  If  your answer is no–in what concrete ways can you change this belief and self-defeating attitude?