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The Last of Human Freedoms

We just celebrated Independence Day – a day bought and paid for by the lives of people who loved freedom and fought and died for it.

We get together with family and friends and enjoy the fireworks displays that were a culmination of the day’s festivities.

But what does freedom mean to you?

“What alone remains is ‘the last of human freedoms’ – the ability to ‘choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” Victor Frankl


Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist and Jew who lived during the Nazi regime in Germany. He along with his entire family was sent to Nazi concentration camps.  He was taken to Auschwitz, one of the most dreaded of these camps.  Except for his sister and himself, his entire family perished. Every possession was taken from them, and the Jews who weren’t shot or sent to the gas chamber endured years of unspeakable horror.


Yet, in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Frankl writes:


“In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitives of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen…”


Spiritual life? How could your spiritual life be deepened in such a horrible place?


As a psychiatrist, physician and acclaimed author, he was now a student in the cruelest of life’s classrooms struggling to survive physically, mentally and spiritually. But it was here, in some of the most horrible of conditions, that he discovered men could be compassionate to others who were suffering and dying and that apathy “… could be overcome, irritability suppressed.  Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physic stress.”


This World War II scenario happened a long time ago. What has this got to do with me today? Why should any of this be relevant in today’s world?


Because when I am whining about the problems I face today, it reminds me of my freedom to choose my attitudes, my determination, my responses to life.  I live in a country where I am free to work and earn a living.  In the midst of unimaginable conditions, Frankl evidenced the indomitable human spirit.   He discovered that prisoners faced with death and unexpected daily torture could focus their minds on things that were good. They could even see the beauty of God’s earth around them.  They could “rise above any situation even if only for a few seconds” when they found and expressed humor. He and another prisoner daily invented at least one amusing story to share with each other.


We make choices every minute of the day. In fact, we cannot not choose.  When we become aware of how simple it is to make choices that are positive, motivating, hope infused, it will fuel our creativity, our inspiration and the ability to find solutions to any problems that seem petty in comparison.

If you have never read Frankl’s book, I highly recommend it.  It is both sobering and inspirational.

Marlene Anderson


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