“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men 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 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.”
I’ve had this quote sitting in my “hold” file for quite some time because I thought I wanted to decide whether I loved it or hated it. The dilemma piqued my interest enough to do some research… and that research revealed that Viktor Frankl was, in fact, a concentration camp survivor. His work (along with that of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche) in psychiatry also served as the basis for “existential therapy.” That’s a topic way too deep for a snowy Wednesday afternoon. If you’re feeling particularly heady, you might do some “googling” and learn a little about this interesting man.
When I did, I discovered yet a recommendation he made. He’s attributed with suggesting that the Statute of Liberty on the East Coast of our country should be complemented by a Statute of Responsibility on the West Coast. That’s a pretty good topic for consideration on any sort of afternoon.
I also have decided that, like having two statutes, I can both hate and love the quote. What I “hate” about it is that it’s a stark reminder of the horrible potential that exists in human beings. What I love about the quote is it’s a stark reminder of the potential for positive power that exists in human beings.
There was a time when we spent many hours in college classes (and after) considering these things. I do miss those times and am a little sad that I’ve not had an intense philosophical discussion in a long time. But on a snowy afternoon in Maine as I consider these heady concepts I find myself tempted to just go outside and make two snowmen. (A first grader gave me his drawing of “Frosty” yesterday I could use as a model. I chuckled at his lack of hesitation and amount of detail provided when I asked him who the snowman was.) Perhaps we should all build a “Frosty of Liberty” and a “Frosty of Responsibility.” In my snowy world, they are both the same size and they can, in fact, coexist.