On Tuesday, I told you about Man’s Search For Meaning.
That is the renowned book by Viktor Frankl, which is the latest entrant in the Primility Library.
Today, I want to relay to you the passage in the book that stuck with me the most … and explain why.
The power of choice
In so many ways, Man’s Search For Meaning is about choice — the choice we all have, every moment, to decide how we are going to react to the circumstances we are presently in.
This is why a book that is so harrowing can be simultaneously so empowering.
And as Frankl explains in the second section of the book, when he outlines the scientific principles that are his life’s work (and that were heavily influenced by his time in Auschwitz), this means that man is ultimately “self-determining.”
Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary. [pg 131]
Those are strong words by Frankl. It would be easy to disagree — to say that not every man does or even can change the world for the better or himself for the better.
But the key word there is capable, for as Frankl explains:
The basis for any predictions [about a person’s future] would be represented by biological, psychological or sociological conditions. Yet one of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions, to grow beyond them. 
This ability to choose, to change, is part of what defines our humanness. I agree with this.
However, this does not mean that humans have, or should have, limitless freedom.
The limits of freedom
Later on page 131, Frankl tells the story of a man he encountered in the concentration camps, “Dr. J” — also known as “the mass murderer of Steinhof.”
Frankl says that Dr. J was the only person he would ever call “satanic,” based on the joy this man seemed to take from sending people to the gas chamber.
Many years later, an acquaintance of Frankl’s who had been imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain asked Frankl if he knew Dr. J., to which Frankl responded that he did. The acquaintance then informed Frankl that Dr. J had died.
But before he died, the acquaintance explained, “[Dr. J] showed himself to be the best comrade you can imagine! He gave consolation to everybody. He lived up to the highest conceivable moral standard. He was the best friend I ever met during my long years in prison.” 
Frankl uses this story to illustrate the folly of trying to predict the behavior of man.
And then he says this, which is the passage that has stuck with me the most since finishing the book:
Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Status of Responsibility on the West Coast. 
The italics are Frankl’s, not mine.
In the margin next to this passage I drew a giant star and wrote Primility!
Dr. J certainly seemed able to change. He clearly made different choices in prison than he did while in charge of a gas chamber during the war. This is an example of the freedom every person has to self-determine his or her future with that next choice. That’s powerful.
But Dr. J was still responsible for the choices he made during the war. Just like you and I are responsible for the choices we made yesterday, the day before that, a year ago, and so on.
We are all free to make the next choice, yes … but that next choice cannot free us from the impact and consequences of the last one. That is the “responsibleness” that Frankl mentions.
Balancing freedom and responsibility
There must be a balance between the ultimate empowerment of freedom and the responsibility that our choices place upon us.
We cannot feel so free that we ignore our responsibilities … yet we also cannot feel so restricted that we feel unable to choose a new path or a new course.
Yes, we are all the sum of our choices, but we are also just one choice away from changing our direction.
This balance between freedom and responsibility is much like the balance between pride and humility. Too much of one or the other will lead to negative effects … and finding perfect balance is but a pipe dream.
All we can do is recognize to which side we are out of balance, and consciously make our next choice to move back in the other direction.
The beauty of freedom
A final word on freedom.
On the next page, Frankl goes on to say:
There is nothing conceivable which would so condition a man as to leave him without the slightest freedom. Therefore, a residue of freedom, however limited it may be, is left to man in neurotic and even psychotic cases. Indeed, the innermost core of the patient’s personality is not even touched by a psychosis.
An incurably psychotic individual may lose his usefulness but yet retain the dignity of a human being. 
Frankl is saying that, no matter what, the freedom of the human psyche is never completely gone so long as we are alive and breathing.
This is why a person like Frankl, who suffered through the worst conditions a human can endure, was able to find meaning in his suffering. He chose to. And he was free to make that choice, because the freedom comes from a place that nothing can touch.
We all have that same freedom.
It is what makes each person “capable of changing the world for the better if possible and changing himself for the better if necessary.”
You, me, everyone. We have that capability within us.
And when we combine that incredible freedom of choice and self-determination with a commitment to the responsibilities we have to our past and to the world around us, we can achieve anything we love and are capable of.
We can change ourselves, and we can change the world.
Viktor Frankl showed us how.
Flickr Creative Commons Image via fisserman
[Editor’s note: The links to Man’s Search For Meaning included above are affiliate links to Amazon. This means that if you click on the link and buy the book, a small commission is paid to the site. This helps us to pay the cost of the books in the Primility library and for the wristbands sent to each new email subscriber. We greatly appreciate your support!]