As I begin my descent to retirement, I decided not to worry about repeating any story or quote that I may have used before in these musings called Principally Speaking. Perhaps I find myself repeating those things, those metaphors, that are my most precious guides to living life.
Viktor Frankl is one of those precious guides to me. He survived the Holocaust. He was a psychiatrist and went on to write the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that I referred to often in my doctoral research on resiliency. He said, “No one can take away my freedom of choosing how I will react to what happens to me.” Tuck that in your heart a minute and read on.
There was a woman who bore four children, one a son. I know not the story of the girls, but I do know parts of the story of the son. A mother should not treat a son like she did hers. Over and over he endured the pain of rejection and abuse. He tried and tried to get just a bit of approval, just a nod. But he never got it. She recently died. He gave his heart and soul in an attempt to save her life. He showered love on her in the last days of her life. Love that she had never been willing to give to him. He is so resilient. And from some source of inner strength, he would not allow her to take away what he does best…to love and to care. He would not allow what happened to make him into its victim.
Recently I saw an adult I had not seen since he was a young teenager. He had suffered much at the hands of classmates who found pleasure in mocking him, teasing him, doing those humiliating taunts and actions that can take away the dignity of a young boy. However, he had parents who showed him unconditional love and acceptance. Parents who taught him to forgive, to free himself from the power of his peers by forgiving them of their deeds. Today that young boy is a successful medical doctor, funny and strong. He would not allow those persecutors to take away his freedom of choosing his reaction to their treatment of him.
There are two “B” words that I never allow children to use when they come to my office. I can imagine your mind is racing in wonder! However, those two “B” words, those two words that can cage a person are these: bored and blame. Let’s look at the power of “blame” for a moment. Blaming absolutely reduces us. It makes us small and removes our power to rise above and move on. Why would anyone want to stay in the mire of blame? Frankl reminds us that we have the freedom to choose our reaction, even if it is to blame. But what does it get us? What satisfaction but to make us hard and cold, unapproachable and often cynical. Do you enjoy being in the company of people who constantly blame? Do they tend to be warm and loving, inviting, and fun conversationalists? Think about it. Then think about who you want to be. Who do you want to reflect when others think of your name?
All Jesus did while walking on this earth was to live and teach unconditional love and acceptance. He forgave and told stories about the power of forgiveness. He lived choosing his reaction to what happened to him…even death on the cross. What were some of his last words? “Father, forgive them…”
Viktor Frankl had it right in the first part of his sentence, “No one can take away my freedom…” The two men described earlier live in freedom. They are not caged by the actions of others. They are free because they took the power when they chose to love and forgive. Let us walk in their wake and live in that kind of freedom which no one can take from us!