Iíve been reading Viktor E. Franklís, Manís Search for Meaning. In his slim volume, Frankl details the unimaginable suffering and miraculous survival of prisoners in Nazi death camps. A survivor himself, Frankl concludes that suffering is an unavoidable part of life.
We have heard time and again that bad things happen to good people. There are books and articles that tell us so. Some of us have probably even experienced things we ďdidnít deserve.Ē We see evidence of this in terminal medical diagnoses and mass shootings. Proof is in the lives lost, the horrific nature of the crimes and the idea that innocent, ordinary people can be randomly gunned down.
Frankl might argue that it isnít what happens to us that matters, but what we think, feel and do about it that does. Sure we may have legitimate complaints about a million different things and people in our lives. But when we are reminded about the fragility of life do we change what we can and accept what we canít, or do we abandon gratitude in favor of griping and petty complaints?
One of the benefits of living a cherished life is the clarity it affords. Living with awareness that our time is limited motivates us to be deliberate about our choices. We are more likely to differentiate between what we can and cannot control. One thing we can always control is our attitude toward an experience.
When bad things happen we can choose to drown in sorrow, burn in anger or we can look for the lesson and find the best way to move forward. We can choose to look for meaning, to find a way to make a difference, or to work for change instead of placing blame or being bitter.
Even when we canít control what is happening in the moment it can feel powerful to decide how we are going to interpret the circumstances.
Here is a trivial example: You are in the grocery store and the cashier is extremely rude. Do you decide she is incompetent and unlikeable then respond by being equally rude? Or do you decide she is having a bad day and conclude her bad attitude has nothing to do with you?
Of course, far more tragic things happen every day, but the point is how we interpret them Ė what we decide to do next. It is not useful to decide that everyone, including all the forces in the Universe have aligned against you and a culture of decency and caring. Goodness can be recovered from even the most heinous evil.
In his forward to Franklís book, Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, quotes Nietzsche. ďHe who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.Ē The why is what keeps us going; it is our source of strength when we feel like giving up or when nothing makes sense. The why can give us power over the how because it is the purpose that fuels and motivates usÖin spite of everything.
In the end, life isnít about living unscathed or untroubled; it is about finding meaning and purpose, and acting on that purpose. There is so much power in purpose that, in almost every circumstance, it can ease pain and propel us forward even through our deepest sorrow.