It Is All Very Much Up To Us (365 Days of Spirited Living – DAY 250)
“There is no life as complete as the life that is lived by choice.”
— Shad Helmstetter
Viktor Frankl, one of my personal heroes, is known as an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist. But perhaps he is better known as a survivor of the Holocaust. To describe the time he spent in three concentration camps as brutal would most likely be an understatement. Any average person would have felt hopeless and wanted to give up on the will to live in such a situation. Just one day, not even a week or a month, would have been enough to throw the course of life off its tracks.
But not so with Viktor Frankl. Instead of giving up on life, he made mental notes of his experiences. In so doing, he discovered how important it was to find real meaning in every form of existence — both pain and pleasure, good and bad, joyful and heartbreaking. When there seems to be no way out, it is perhaps easiest to blame others. Frankl would have been justified in blaming his. But blame only takes the responsibility off of one’s self and puts the control in the hands of someone else.
But Viktor Frankl didn’t do this. It wasn’t up to the evil reign of Nazi leaders to help him survive. He couldn’t depend on such cold and callous souls to deliver him from a prison that they had put him in. After all, they were against him and many others for reasons they would never understand. It wasn’t up to the whims of the environment which produced only death and disease and had damaging effects on people’s hearts and lives. Frankl’s survival was up to him. He knew that. And he had to find a reason for being, a reason for existing, and a reason to keep on living.
And he did. He decided that the will to survive and the will to live was very much up to him. He couldn’t change his immediate environment, but he could change what he thought about and what he allowed to enter and exit his heart. He could discover something good out of a painful and torturous existence. He could think about the future, however, dim and bleak it looked. He could be free on the inside though it was bound on the outside. Frankl discovered that living begins in the soul. Many people are alive, but very few people live — with meaning and with intentionality. This is what pulled Frankl through the Holocaust.
It is the same with us. No one is going to force us to live when life throws its punches. Very many times, no one is coming to save us or rescue us or throw us an opportunity or take us anywhere or give us anything. It’s just not happening. No one else is responsible for any part of our existence but us. It is all up to us how we choose to live and whether we choose to live at all. The choice is there for all of us to make. Too many people don’t make the choice to live and so they, by default, die. And the existence itself is painful. People die faster from a lack of meaning in life than they do from a lack of health.
What do you think Viktor Frankl would think of the world today. We give up too easily at every bump we encounter on the road to wherever it is we are going. He would be appalled to see us thinking that everything is under the control of fate, or chance, or background, or environment. He would be disappointed to see so many of us with no will to live outside of the work we begrudgingly do which holds no real meaning for us.
Nothing is more massively destructive than the mind that cannot make choices. And nothing is more wonderfully beautiful than the soul that decides to press on despite obstacles. There is a freedom and a sense of responsibility and power that comes with knowing everything is up to you. How you see, perceive, think, and act will determine whether you get good results or not.
Change is a byproduct of action. There are many causes that need champions, many problems that need solutions. But nothing at all changes until we realize the power is in our hands to effect change. Whatever change we seek is all up to us to make it happen. Social injustice, racial injustice, illiteracy, poverty, cures for deadly diseases, healthcare disparities — whatever the problems are, the solution lies in us. Change would be impossible if everything were left to chance.
But nothing really is left to chance. You’ll likely never face a Holocaust or anything close to it in your lifetime. You will, however, face struggles, hurts, pains, heartbreaks, disappointments, and failures. And every single moment of adversity will present before you the opportunity to make a decision. You will be forced to make a choice and then asked to manage your choices. Throwing in the towel presents its own consequences. Choosing to live offers a better set of consequences that are more like gifts and blessings in disguise.
Situations will happen and you can choose to let them happen or to happen right alongside them. Just as no one can breath for you, no one else can make your choices for you. They are yours alone to make. It is only when you exercise your right to choose that you can also exercise your right to change — to change your mindset, to change your environment, to change your beliefs, and to change yourself. Those who choose to employ their wills to be used for their advantages will end up with a brighter outcome than those who don’t choose at all. We can be said to be alive in those moments when our minds and souls are conscious of both pain, pleasure, and the significance of both to a meaningful life.
“Every man dies. Not every man really lives.”