Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Stephen Covey mentions this quote from Victor Frankl in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Frankl was a psychiatrist and a Jew. He was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany, where he experienced things that were so repugnant to our sense of decency that we shudder to even repeat them. Frankl suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one moment to the next if his path would lead to the ovens or if he would be among the “saved” who would remove the bodies or shovel out the ashes of those so fated.
One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called “the last of the human freedoms” – the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Victor Frankl was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement. His basic identity was intact.
He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him.
Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.
In the midst of his experiences, Frankl would project himself into different circumstances, such lecturing to his students after release from the death camps. He would describe himself in the classroom, in his mind’s eye, and give his students the lessons he was learning during his very torture. He became an inspiration to those around him, even to some of the guards. He helped others to find meaning in their suffering and dignity in their prison sentence.
In the midst of the most degrading circumstances that you can imagine, Frankl used the human endowment of self-awareness to discover a fundamental principle about the nature of man.
Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.
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