In the Second World War millions of people endured unimaginable horror and suffering before being exterminated in the Nazi concentration camps. Viktor Frankl was one of the fortunate few who survived. Here is an often quoted passage from his book, ‘A Man’s Search For Meaning’:
‘We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that 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.’
The people Viktor Frankl wrote about didn’t allow their circumstances to form their attitude to life. Rather, they chose their attitude despite their circumstances. That doesn’t mean they could choose their emotions – they were enveloped in suffering, horror and death, but they could still choose their attitude towards their circumstances, which indicates not everything was taken from them. While they lived they would have not felt completely powerless.
I’m not suggesting we aim to be like those brave people, or develop a ‘stiff upper lip’, or adopt an attitude. I am merely acknowledging that we all possess that one true freedom.
‘There were men . . . whose behaviour in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost . . . It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.’
Viktor Frankl, from his book, ‘A Man’s search for Meaning’.
Of his experience as a prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma railway during World War II, Ian Denys Peek recalls: ‘ . . . there are men who have gone into the cholera compound of their own accord to bring such comfort as they can. They know full well that they will not be allowed to leave until the cholera outbreak has cleared, and that there is a big risk of being infected and dying while inside. There are also many helpers who have survived an attack, and have voluntarily stayed there to be with their mates.’
From ‘One fourteenth of an Elephant’, by Ian Denys Peek.
Although Ian describes brutal conditions his book is about courage and survival.
‘. . . “attitude” reminds me of how a plane approaches air currents. When confronted by strong currents, we need to adjust our attitude so as to effectively move toward our destination. This doesn’t mean we can fly through every possible storm wind, but it should mean we adjust to give ourselves a chance to move forward if forward is possible. If we shut down and let the wind throw us about, we could suffer greater harm.’
Reader, Barxalot Howler