Doctor Viktor Frankl was a neurologist and
psychologist psychiatrist in Vienna, Austria. He founded the third branch of Viennese psychological therapies, logotherapy. But his life changed drastically when Austria capitulated to the National Socialists.
The Nazis interned Frankl. He spent time in four concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau. For three years, his captors made him dig ditches for railroads and water pipes, and fed him a slice of bread an ounce or so of soup a day. The Nazis destroyed the only copy of a manuscript he’d worked on for years. The Nazis killed his mother, his father, his brother, and his beloved wife Tilly. They beat him repeatedly. They forced him to sleep on a bed of boards six feet by eight feet with nine other prisoners and only two blankets.
To any reasonable person, Frankl lost everything but his life. He lived at the whim of evil people bent on exhausting his usefulness before feeding him to an oven. Frankl, though, didn’t see it that way.
He refused to concede that others controlled him. Sure, they limited his physical movement, they deprived him of his property, they killed his family, they dictated his activity. But he retained the most important aspects of humanness.
Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
Viktor E. Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning (Kindle Locations 28-29). Kindle Edition.
Viktor Frankl survived the death camps by miracles and attitude. He went on to become one of the most acclaimed psychiatrists and humanitarians of the 20th century. His story and his teachings inspired millions of people around the world to turn their lives around.
What did Viktor Frankl have that America’s young people today lack?
It wasn’t intelligence or opportunity or caring parents or great schools. It wasn’t physical strength or stamina or great networks of powerful people.
What Frankl understood that young Americans don’t is something far more important than any of those things.
Frankl had a powerful internal locus of control. He believed that, no matter what cards life dealt him, he was responsible for his attitude and actions. Not someone else, him.
A 2004 study shows that Americans have lost their internal locus of control, and that’s sad. It’s depressing. And it’s part of the reason young people vote for authoritarian government.
The study by Jean Twinge, Liqing Zhang, and Charles Im found that American college students of 2002 had more external locus of control than 80% of their 1960 counterparts. The authors describe locus of control this way:
People who believe they are in control of their destinies have an internal locus of control (“internals”). Those who believe that luck and powerful others determine their fate have an external locus of control (“externals”) (Twinge, et al, 2004).
Believing that luck and powerful others determine your life has a terrible effect. According to the study:
The results are consistent with an alienation model positing increases in cynicism, individualism, and the self-serving bias. The implications are almost uniformly negative, as externality is correlated with poor school achievement, helplessness, ineffective stress management, decreased self-control, and depression [emphasis added].
Externality ultimately leads to a feeling or belief that one’s life has no meaning. It’s nihilism run amok. It leads to suicide of the mind, soul, and body.
When people ask “how could the German people give into Hitler’s maniacal schemes?” they get answers about the Treaty of Versailles, hyperinflation, and German culture. Those aren’t the right answers. The answer is, at least in part, Germans in the 1930s had a powerful external locus of control. They’d been told and believed that their plight was not a result of their doing but the work of “powerful others.”
Logically, the Germans looked around to find who these “others” were. And they found the Jews. They also found a “powerful other” named Adolf Hitler who promised to punish their tormentors and unite the scattered tribes of Germany into a master race that would rule the world forever.
What the world needs—what young people, in particular, need—is a dose of Frankl’s logotherapy. The whole of America needs that. I need it. I read Frankl’s short masterpiece, Man’s Search for Meaning three times in the past week. It’s a very quick read—you can read it in a day.
Pick up a copy . Read it. Buy three copies, and give two away.
If America is to survive, it will need a cultural attitude shift. That begins with you. And the attitude must be forward, not backward, looking. It must involve action—positive action toward that which gives you meaning.
Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
Viktor E. Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning (Kindle Locations 854-855). Kindle Edition.
How do we shift this locus of control from the outside to the inside? How do we help young people accept that they, not “powerful others,” decide who they will become?
I don’t have all the answers, but I know the wrong answer. If you feel compelled to simply blame teachers and schools, government and RINOs, Democrats and television, then you’re lost in an external locus of control.
Frankl exhorted Americans to balance the Statue of Liberty on the east coast with a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast. We who sit around blaming others might be correct in assigning blame, but we’re only reinforcing the deleterious attitude that we are powerless to change our lives and, thereby, our world. It’s irresponsible to point to others and expect them to fix it for us.
That’s a sobering revelation for some, but it should also be an inspiring thought. YOU HAVE THE POWER. It’s all within us.