Victor Frankl – Stimulus and Response

I recently read this intersting story* about Victor Frankl which tells about the “Freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances “. I personally always believed in postive attitude and it have always helped me. Here goes the story,

“Victor Frankl was a determinist raised in the tradition of Freudian psychology, which postulates that
whatever happens to you as a child shapes your character and personality and basically governs your
whole life. The limits and parameters of your life are set, and, basically, you can’t do much about it.
Frankl was also a psychiatrist and a Jew. He was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany,
where he experienced things that were so repugnant to our sense of decency that we shudder to even
repeat them.

His parents, his brother, and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. Except for
his sister, his entire family perished. Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities,
never knowing from one moment to the next if his path would lead to the ovens or if he would be
among the “saved” who would remove the bodies or shovel out the ashes of those so fated.

One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called “the
last of the human freedoms” — the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control
his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Viktor Frankl himself was a
self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement. His basic identity was intact.
He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. Between what happened to
him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.

In the midst of his experiences, Frankl would project himself into different circumstances, such as lecturing to his students after his release from the death camps. He would describe himself in the classroom, in his mind’s eye, and give his students the lessons he was learning during his very torture.

Through a series of such disciplines — mental, emotional, and moral, principally using memory and
imagination — he exercised his small, embryonic freedom until it grew larger and larger, until he had
more freedom than his Nazi captors. They had more liberty, more options to choose from in their
environment; but he had more freedom, more internal power to exercise his options. He became an
inspiration to those around him, even to some of the guards. He helped others find meaning in their
suffering and dignity in their prison existence.

In the midst of the most degrading circumstances imaginable, Frankl used the human endowment of
self-awareness to discover a fundamental principle about the nature of man: Between stimulus and
response, man has the freedom to choose.

Within the freedom to choose are those endowments that make us uniquely human. In addition to
self-awareness, we have imagination — the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality.
We have conscience — a deep inner awareness of right and wrong, of the principles that govern our
behavior, and a sense of the degree to which our thoughts and actions are in harmony with them. And
we have independent will — the ability to act based on our self-awareness, free of all other influences.”

“Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedom — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Hope this helps
Ponnurangam

*Taken from: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, Fireside, 1989

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