“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…” — Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl spent three years of his life in various concentration camps, including Dachau. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like in a Nazi death camp, but it does seem that witnessing what Frankl describes would have been stunning. We all long to believe that we could be heroic if called upon to be so; that we would be one of the few who would have been giving what little comfort we could to our fellow prisoners.
Fortunately, those of us reading this blog likely will never face circumstances as catastrophic as those the Holocaust victims endured. What might escape our notice is that we can be heroic in far more mundane circumstances. The same impulse that would lead a starving person to sacrifice his last bit of food is manifest in countless unremarkable ways, every day.
When someone gives you a few minutes of precious time by attending to your story, sending you a note or small gift, cooking a meal for you, helping with a small task, or any other of a number of personal kindnesses, they are enacting the same spirit Frankl witnessed in the camps. When someone lets you into traffic instead of honking at you, waves you ahead in a line at the grocery, or gives you a smile or a friendly word just when you need it most, they are exercising the freedom to choose a caring attitude.
This, Frankl reminds us, is a freedom that can never be taken away. It belongs to all of us, today, this very moment. How will we use it?