“A podium and a prison is each a place, one high and the other low, but in either place, your freedom of choice can be maintained if you so wish.”EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 2.6.25
For today’s post, I would like to refer to the book by Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning. For those who don’t know this is a memoir of Viktor Frankl’s experiences as a prisoner in one of the Nazi’s concentration camps during World War II. If you haven’t read this book then I would highly recommend it, but for now, I am sharing some of my favorite passages from the book.
But what about human liberty? Is there no spiritual freedom in regard to behavior and reaction to any given surroundings? … Most important, do the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings? Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?
We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle. The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. … Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.
If you have read about Nazi concentration camps then you must know it is one of the worst forms of the condition that can be imposed on any human being. But when you are going through so much suffering imposed on you wrongly by another human being, does it justify losing your humanity and spiritual freedom? If you are hungry for days, will you steal from another hungry man, if you are cold, will you justify killing another man for some extra cloth? Do two wrongs make a right? And as one can see many people does that. Whenever faced with some difficult situation, people tend to react similarly and they justify it on their sufferings.
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.
In the book, Viktor gave the example of few prisoners who don’t succumb to the circumstances and surrounding them. They choose to react as per their principles and values. And this is what reinstates our faith in today’s teaching that whatever the circumstances are, one always has the freedom to choose. One can imprison your body, but a person is truly imprisoned only when you give them control of your mind. If people can take control of their minds and attitude in one of the worst possible conditions known to mankind why can’t we do the same in our day-to-day life?
Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.