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Man's Search for Meaning

by Viktor Emil Frankl

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Student Question

What does "the last of the human freedoms is to choose one's attitude" mean?

Quick answer:

In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl's statement that "the last of the human freedoms is to choose one's attitude" means that people usually cannot change their circumstances, but they can choose how they approach them.

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In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl argues that the one freedom all people have at any time is the liberty to choose how to respond to a situation, no matter how dire that situation may be. The bad situations themselves often cannot be changed. People become terminally ill. People lose loved ones. People might lose certain abilities, such as sight or being able to work independently. People face great horrors such as persecution, natural disasters, or violence. These circumstances often cannot be changed, but the individual can choose to either face them with courage or to buckle under the pressure and give in to despair.

Frankl understood this reality firsthand. When he was sent to the Nazi death camps, he could not alter his situation. However, he tried his best to give his suffering meaning by changing his attitude toward it. He thought about reuniting with his wife or finishing his manuscript, should he ever be freed. This gave him drive. While such an attitude did not guarantee that he would survive the ordeal (as Frankl observes, death often came arbitrarily in the camps), Frankl did at least stave off despair, which often caused prisoners to give up and die quickly.

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