Some reflections by Victor Frankl

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the people 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 away from a person 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 Freedom that remained was the decision how to respond.

Homo sapiens is a meaning-seeking animal, Frankl argued. But to preserve meaning in desperate circumstances we must be able, or be helped to do a number of things. First is the refusal to believe that we are victims of fate. We are free. Within limits, we are the author of our own lives. Second is the knowledge that there is more than one way of interpreting what happens to us – more than one way of telling the story of our life. Third, Frankl insists that meaning lies outside us. It is a call from somewhere else. 

In the last resort, man should not ask, “What is the meaning of my life?”, but should realize that he himself is being questioned. Life is putting problems to him, and it is up to him to respond to these questions by being responsible; he can only answer to life by answering for his life. Life is a task. The religious person differs from the apparently irreligious man only be experiencing his existence, not simply as as a task, but as a mission, that he is also aware of the taskmaster, the source of this mission. For thousands of years, that source has been called God.”

Victor Frankl spent a significant portion of his young years in a concentration camp where many of his family members were killed and he watched others die of starvation and torture.  He watched, close-up the evil that we as people are capable of, and at the same time, the great compassion and good that we are capable of. Life is filled with possibility; what we do with it is up to us. We can exist in fear, violence, hatred and death, or we can live with compassion, courage, and love. We are called to bring life to a broken and wounded world, and this demands something of us, more than apathy and self concern. It requires us to really learn how to see. Jesus was always challenging his disciples (students) to open their eyes and their minds and begin to see with their hearts.  

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