[E]everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedom is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances — to choose one’s own way.
The only thing more uplifting for me today than the sun shining, the birds chirping and the realization that the worst of winter is behind us is Kristen Ziman’s article, “Bad Attitudes and Glowworms”, in the Aurora Beacon News on March 25, 2014. Mind you, Kristen is an Aurora Police Commander. She sees the worst of humanity on a daily basis. The quotation at the top of the page is from Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor. Those connections should strike a chord.
If you are like me, you like to be in control. I feel most comfortable when I am in control (even when I have no good reason to feel comfortable based on my past failures). People seem to tolerate even bad situations better when they feel like they have some control. Conversely, feeling that we lack control tends to leave us feeling depressed and out of sorts.
We make decisions and choose to go this way or that way. We make plans and carry out our plans the best that we can. Some of us are better at planning and carrying out plans than others, but even the best planners among us find that things happen that frustrate, change and redirect the paths that we have chosen. Things happen every day, even hourly, that we did not plan or expect when we awoke in the morning. When things do not go as planned, the tendency is to get frustrated, angry, disappointed and even depressed.
It occurs to me that control over our lives ultimately is just an illusion. A parent dies unexpectedly, a person gets laid off, a plane gets hijacked, a mudslide happens, the dream of becoming a professional baseball player does not pan out, the college we want to get into does not accept us, we can not find a job in our field of study. There are a million things in our lives that we do not control.
We did not choose to be born. We did not choose the time we were born or the country or family we were born into. We did not choose our genes, physical attributes or psychological make up. We do not inevitably control our lives, and we all will die.
When you think about these things, it may seem depressing, but it is all a matter of attitude.
Perhaps, the only thing I do truly control is my attitude, my outlook on life, my world view (whatever you want to call it). As the Frankl quotation suggests, if all control is taken away from me, I still control my attitude. I may not control my circumstances, but I control my response to those circumstances. I can “choose my own way”. Though there is no guaranty I will be able to carry out the way I have chosen, I am able to choose nonetheless.
We all live in the illusion that we control our own lives. For some of us that illusion seems more real than for others, but none of us truly control our lives.
What if that is the way it is designed? What if attitude, including my relationship with people, is the only thing I am meant to control?
Ironic post script: I was first inspired to write about attitude and outlook on life. I quickly got off track with the idea of control (or the lack thereof). I followed the track and ended up someplace I did not envision when I started. I kind of like that in this instance, though my tendency is to go back and direct my attention back to where I started. I chose to let it go a different direction. Kristen Ziman’s article is good one. I encourage you to go back and read it if you have not done so.