“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
“Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.”
I first stumbled across the mention of Viktor Frankl in Dr. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Dr. Covey spent some time on that 1st quote of Viktor and, in essense, made it (in my opinion) his defintion of the word “proactive.”
Even before reading Dr. Covey’s book, I had used the term proactive, without every really thinking about it. It seemed to be the hot term at the time (this was in the early to mid 90’s). It was a word to use.
But reading Dr. Covey’s book put that word in a whole new light. Intrigued, I picked up Dr. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search For Meaning.” What a powerful book. Both disturbing, in reading about the depth of man’s inhumanity to others, juxtaposed with hope and inspiration.
At times, I tried to imagine myself in his place, to wonder if I would be able to respond as he did. To have his courage and resolve. And the truth is, I could not have. I would have reacted. Or I would have shrunk. Either way, I probably would not have survived.
And I learned that there is the fundamental difference between living a proactive life and using the word. The capacity to choose what our response to the situation in front of us is going to be, or will be, is what makes us unique among the animals. We do not need to react instinctively. We do not need to react to our emotions.
Fellow employees who “irritate” us; employers or company policies that “oppress” us; spouses who “nag: us – do you choose how you will respond to these or like situations, or do you react instinctively, angrily? Are you truly proactive or reactive?
I know now that regardless of how I react – or respond – it’s my choice. And both the action and the subsequent consequences are mine. It’s quite liberating to know that. It also removes all excuses and transfer all responsibiliy to me.
I can live with that.
I hope you can too.
Lastly, I found this passage to be so powerful, I wanted to share it with you (again, I hope I’m not violating any copyright laws, I suppose someone will tell me if I am). Dr. Frankl wrote about the following while being marched to forced labor at a Nazi concentration camp.
“We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road running through the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his hand behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”
That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another on and upward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look then was more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth–that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way–an honorable way–in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”
In front of me a man stumbled and those following him fell on top of him. The guard rushed over and used his whip on them all. Thus my thoughts were interrupted for a few minutes. But soon my soul found its way back from the prisoners existence to another world, and I resumed talk with my loved one: I asked her questions, and she answered; she questioned me in return, and I answered…
My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, and the thoughts of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I still would have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of that image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. “Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.”