Friday, August 21, 2009
Excerpt from Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
The experiences of camp life shows that man does have a choice of action. There are enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions...We who lived in the 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 human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
...And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.
Seen from this point of view, the mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions. Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it became clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him, mentally and spiritually. Dostoevsky said once, "there is only one thing that I dread, not to be worth of my sufferings." These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings. The way they bore their sufferings was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom, which cannot be taken away, that makes life meaningful and purposeful.
--Viktor E Frankl (1905-1997) "Man's Search for Meaning" (1959)
pp. 65-67 Beacon Press edition