“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.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
I think this is a very important idea to master. It makes no difference what is happening to you – it’s your attitude which often decides the outcome.
When I taught English I used this quote to introduce a story called “A Many Who Had No Eyes.”. The story is about a wealthy, well-dressed business man wearing a fine suit and using a beautiful silver-handled cane, who leaves his office on a lovely spring day very aware of all the smells, sounds and sensations of the season. He encounters a blind beggar who is rather dirty and smelly. The beggar wants to sell him a lighter. Though the man doesn’t need one, he buys the lighter to help the blind man out, and then asks, “Have you always been blind?”
The beggar, hoping to arouse some pity from the business man, to get more money, tells him how he was in the infamous fire at the chemical plant in the town, and how he had tried to get out, but was dragged back by others.
“Not quite,” says the business man, recognizing the beggar’s voice, and his story. “It was you who dragged me back, and stepped on me to get out, leaving me there.”
The beggar splutters in surprise as he recognizes the man’s voice, “Well, but, but, you’ve been standing there all this while listening to me, and I’m blind, I’m blind!”
“Well,” says the business man, “don’t make such a row about it. So am I.”
Each of these men had been in the same circumstance – one took to begging and feeling sorry for his plight; the other got educated and became successful. The difference between the two men was in how they chose to deal with the difficulties life threw at them. The attitude each chose created their path in life.
Sometimes it’s a hard thing to accept, but each of us is responsible for the life choices we make, for the life we lead, and for its outcome. But responsibility doesn’t mean blame. It has to do with the way you respond to what life hands you. This can be tough to swallow when life hands you something unfair or unkind; but you can choose to not be a victim, but a survivor.
So life is not always just – but no one said it would be. What counts in any instance is that you can have an attitude about life’s circumstances that will send you forward, rather than an attitude that will hold you back for years.
Are you holding on to an anger from years ago? Did you ever think about letting it go? After all, it’s not hurting anyone else for you to be angry. You can choose to be understanding. Forgiving. Think of the Amish who offered their condolences to the wife of the man who killed their families. This is the true act of grace.
By the way, Viktor Frankl, author of the quote at the top, was a holocaust survivor who lost everyone but his sister in the concentration camps. Google him and you will find an amazing story of survival and positive outlook.