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Freedom of Choice in Suffering

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Freedom is an important aspect to everyone's life throughout the world, but what exactly makes us free? Is freedom the right to do as you please, to say what you want, and to just live however you desire to or is freedom something deeper than that, something as simple as feeling the emotions that you choose to feel, making your own decisions whether to keep your hopes up, or choosing to fall into the pits of sorrow from the unending suffering that life has brought upon you? Freedom can be any and all of these things depending on how you look at it. However, Viktor Frankl, the author of Choice and Human Dignity, has his own views on human freedom especially on the aspect of human suffering.

Human freedom, according to Frankl, cannot be taken away by any circumstance. Freedom is always there to be had, if you just let yourself have it. Even if it does not seem like you have any freedom or if you cannot outwardly display your freedom, it still exists inside of you. Human dignity is simply a choice of feelings and emotions, never to be lost unless you choose to let it go. With this choice of emotions is the freedom we all have internally because every choice is a freedom and every freedom is a choice. The biggest freedom of all is that of choosing what goes on inside of you. In your heart and in your head, what you want to think and feel and perceive is all your choice and in that choice is where your freedom belongs. Frankl believes that, no matter what, there will always be the freedom to choose your own attitude in every situation.

By looking at the people in a concentration camp during the Second World War, all seemed lost. Their surroundings had left them in a horrible state of deprivation and suffering. While in the midst of suffering, hope can be kept or thrown away. It is all a matter of individual choice to accept the suffering and take "an ample opportunity… to add a deeper meaning to… life" (p. 572). Frankl explains that the camp influences cannot entirely alter the decisions that are made internally. All external forces place burdens on the freedoms that every human being has in them, but the freedom is still there inside, whether it is brought out in every circumstance is simply a personal choice by the individual. The achievement one can get from suffering and proving that the inner freedom cannot be lost is what gives meaning to suffering, as well as to life in general.

Many of the people inside the concentration camp were losing hope. It was a rule that, if someone was trying to commit suicide, it was illegal to stop him. Psychotherapy was begun in the concentration camp for just this reason. These psychotherapeutic endeavors were used to try to give people a meaning to their life, more often then not, by giving them something to look forward to in the future. As Nietzsche said, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how" (p. 574). Give a man something good to live for in his future and he will do everything he is capable of to make sure he actually does live for it. Also, psychotherapy continually tried to show everyone that his or her life was irreplaceable. For example, one man that Frankl talks about who was thinking about committing suicide realizes that his child is still waiting for him to come home and also realizes that no one can ever replace him as his child's father. Thus, he does not end up committing suicide because he had been given something to look forward to.

Frankl's ideas of freedom are very well thought out and convincing. I personally agree with his thoughts because freedom is an important aspect in all of our lives. If we, as a human population, lost our sense of being free the world would be in complete chaos. Freedom gives us our identity because our choices in life directly reflect who we are as a person. External forces and people can stop us from displaying our freedom in a physical sense, just like being in a concentration camp. No matter what they do to us, though, we always have the inner choice of keeping our own dignity and continually being hopeful. Like Frankl explains, "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" (p. 571). Our suffering in these situations gives us the opportunity to show ourselves as we really are.

The meaning of our life is rooted in how we take our sufferings and in the way that those sufferings help to shape us into, hopefully, a better person. Without the suffering, we, as a society, would not be able to appreciate all the good things in life, as well as all the good things to look forward to in the future. Some people have argued that all of the choices that most people believe to be freedoms are actually predetermined. In a physical sense, I believe that to be true. We choose not to jump off a bridge because we believe that we will die and know that it is harmful to us. External forces, however, cannot control our choice to keep our hopes up. A person's dignity cannot be taken away unless that person chooses to give it up and fall prey to life's sufferings.

One thing that I believe about freedom is contrary to what Frankl believes though. I believe that freedom can be just a state of mind. If you believe that you are free, then you are and if you believe that you are not free, then you are not. A person can believe that his decisions are solely his to make and therefore makes them without influence. However, if it is believed that someone else is making the decisions for him, then he has given up his freedom to choose. Even in this last aspect of freedom, though, the initial decision of whether to believe that you have freedom or not is completely your own choice and remains uninfluenced. Just the idea of being in control of our lives and of our thoughts without external forces being able to alter them can give life and suffering meaning, even if all other freedoms are taken away.

Majority of people in the world base their existence on the fact that they have freedom. The entire United States of America is centered on the fact that we are all free. Without the idea of being free, our lives would not be the same. Frankl believes that even though physical freedoms can be taken away, our inner freedom will always be there. Even in a concentration camp, the choice is still there to have hope and dignity and that cannot be taken away unless it is let go. A person's emotions can never be fully controlled, no matter how hard someone tries to control them.

Suffering has meaning in the way that it is dealt with and can also give meaning to life in general. Just like it is shown in the concentration camp where psychotherapy was being used to get people to realize that there is something to look forward to in the future, an individual's life is irreplaceable. I believe that Frankl's views are very accurate on freedom, except I think it should be added that it could be altered depending on what state of mind a person has on the issue. By believing to be free, a person automatically has more freedom simply because they trust that they do. Freedom and human suffering go hand in hand and give meaning to everyone's life, including society as a whole.


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