Tragedy, heartache, failures, and unhealthy relationships strike most of us at one point in our lives. Death, broken trust in relationships, accidents, and life changing experiences can alter our way of living, alter how we see others, and even alter how we view ourselves. When events occur, that may be either partially out of our control, or completely out of our control, the first response is often “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?”. Questions that can often never have a resolution or answer that give us some reasoning to the feelings of pain and helplessness.
Humans in general are a species that thrive on the illusion of having complete control over their environment, believing that through technology and their own willpower that they can control both natural forces, supernatural forces, and the human forces of others. If we think about this illusion of complete control, it is quite pretentious and unrealistic that we have created this illusion of control and predictability that is unharmonious with the reality of living.
Victor Frankl, a renowned psychologist of the existential movement in psychology had always made a profound impact on me through his writing. Dr. Frankl, not only a renowned psychologist, but also a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, later wrote about his experiences of surviving and the meaning in life that came out of his experiences in the classic Man’s search for meaning”. All of his family perished during the holocaust, and just one sister and he survived the atrocities of widespread human ruthlessness. Three of his lessons learned from his detention and torture have forever been imprinted in my mind since the first time I read this book. The first lesson was that in all cultures, regardless of nationality, race, or ethnicity, two types of people exist: the principled human and the flawed human that receives pleasure in controlling, dominating, and yes even hurting others. The second important lesson, is that despite a person’s circumstances, pure unaltered and selfless love is one’s power over adversity. The third lesson was that no matter what one’s circumstance is in life, the only power and control they have is how they choose to react and behave in the face of adversity.
Most all of us will face adversity and situations where the concept of fairness and logic of human kindness may be forgotten. Only those who pass away from life at a very young age may not experience the more painful experiences of living. While it is unrealistic to believe that we can fully ever control our life, the forms of control we do have are related to Victor Frankl’s insight. Even though our lives may be momentarily derailed and thrown into chaos by those that have flawed characters in a society, principled people still exist that are worth knowing, loving, and making connections with. In addition, even though we cannot control the behaviors of others, nature, or accidents, we all have the control within us to determine how we choose to react to these events. We can sink down into the role of the helpless victim. We can sink down into the role of planning and carrying out acts of revenge and hate, or we can choose to find our inner strength, understand we cannot control all people in our lives, but we can control how we chose to react to those people and circumstances and move forward to become a survivor of our circumstances.
The pain of life circumstances that we are faced with gives us all a choice, and that choice is yours and yours alone either to be a victim or a survivor. The victim either gives away their own self-control, or becomes tormented by engaging in flawed behavior of controlling and destroying others. The survivor chooses to take a more principled path, choosing love, self-respect, and respect for others to move forward towards a life of empathy, compassion, and kindness.
Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.