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Posts Tagged ‘Victor Frankl’

about ten years ago i had an idea…i decided i wanted to put on a wall in my home portraits of people who had made a difference in the world.  some would be well known people, others not so well know…but what they would have in common is that they let their own unique light shine and changed the world for the better.  i wanted to remind myself, and my children, of the difference we can make in the world…that we are here to live our own lives and in being brave enough to do that, we can affect and help so many others.   i think i will start to post about some of those people here, the first being victor frankl.

i am in awe of victor frankl…his bravery, compassion, insight, brilliance, humor…his love of life…when i listened to this little clip of him explaining some of his ideas,  i was inspired and reminded that what was in him is in all of us…we all are capable of doing “great” things, whether it’s being kind to each other or writing brilliant books…we all have the capability to connect with each other and make the world a better place.

in this clip victor frankl states:

“…if you presuppose in this man…if in this so called criminal, or juvenile delinquent or drug abuser and so forth there must be a spark of search for meaning…let’s recognize this.  let’s presuppose it and then you will illicit it from him.  you will make him become what he in principal is capable of becoming.”

i think what he says in this clip is true.  when i worked in chicago with kids with severe behavior disorders…which were usually the result of severe abuse and neglect… i would give certain children responsibilities that others would never dream of giving them because they thought the child was “bad”…and pretty much every single time i did that, the child would fulfill my “good” expectation of them.  they were able to control their behavior and really follow through with the task…and you could see on their face how proud they were of themselves…how special they felt.  perhaps it was the first time someone believed in them or trusted them, i’m not sure, but expecting the best of them was almost always a great experience for them and for me. we all need people who believe in us…sometimes it’s the boost we need to help us start to believe in ourselves.

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the other day while my husband and kids were eating lunch,  my husband and  my son were joking around about something…at one point my husband said to him “well, i’m not going to send you to siberia.”  my son asked what siberia is so we started to explain.  we explained where it was and the climate…and then i explained a bit about the labor camps.  i told him that my grandfather was sent there from latvia, that he died in the camps.  my 4 year old daughter had been listening to all of this and had a question.

“can you make snow angels in siberia mommy?”

i was taken aback by her question but told her that you can make snow angels anywhere that there is snow.  i imagined my grandfather making a snow angel in siberia.  did he?  did he find joy in the camps?  did he find meaning in his life?  i can only imagine what he endured.  i know many of his friends and fellow latvian officers were killed.  i know he was brought to trail by the russians and sent to a labor camp.  i know he never heard from or saw his family again.  i know he never made it out of the camp.

in the book, “man’s search for meaning”, victor frankl writes of his experience in a concentration camp during the second world war.  he explains why he wrote the book in the preface, saying, “I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of a concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones.”  he explains some of the horrors they experienced in the camps…but also that the prisoners found bits of joy, humor, love, connectedness, meaning, in spite of their horrific situation.  he did not say it was easy, or that everyone could connect to that which is greater, that which connects us…the beauty of life…but some did.  he tells a story of a fellow prisoner rushing into his hut one evening to ask them to come outside and watch a beautiful sunset.  he tells of art and humor…sacrifice and hope.

“The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action.  There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed.  Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. 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.”

what made these few different?  were they just better people?  stronger people?  i would argue no.  i think they just knew something that perhaps the others didn’t…that we are more then our situation, more then the circumstances of our lives, and they were able to remember that truth in the most difficult of circumstances…it’s during the most difficult times that most of us forget the thing that is most important…we are spiritual beings having a human experience…life is full of pain and suffering…the pain that we can experience in this life can feel at times unbearable…and it is real…but that is not who we are.  we are not our pain.  we are our light, and that light is in all of us.

so did my grandfather make snow angels in siberia?  probably not.  but i hope that for one moment he watched a sunset or listened to a bird and remembered that he was more then anything that would ever happen to him.

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