When Victor Frankl reflected on what had made the difference between those who lived through the Nazi concentration camps and those who died, he concluded it was the meaning people gave to their lives. Those who created their own meaning gave themselves the “freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances; to choose one’s own way.” They survived the camps. Those who did not did not.
Consider this recent story of a man who went to a place in Baghdad where a car bomb had exploded and played his cello there.
“So the act of playing the cello was the opposite to the act of detonating a bomb?”
“Yes, Creating life, basically… Life [in Baghdad] is experienced on a daily basis. Even though we don’t experience normalcy. When things are normal, I will have more responsibilities and obligations. But when things are insane and abnormal like that, I have the obligation of inspiring people, sharing hope, perseverance, dedication, and preserving the momentum of life.”
Making our own meaning gives us the freedom to choose how we respond, in even the most difficult circumstances.
When the world around us is out of step with the way we want it to be, still we can take steps to move it in the direction we want. And perhaps when it is hardest, those are the times that can make the most difference.
Chapter 5 of inner leadership contains exercises that enable us to find our own meaning: to define our values and our purpose in life.
They help us to know what is important and what is not. And they give us the freedom to choose how we will respond.