Stephen R. Covey
Shortly before Viktor Frankl s passing in September 1997, I had heard of his declining health, illness , and hospitalization. I was very anxious to talk with him so that I could express my profound gratitude for his life s work ”for his impact on millions of people, including my own life and life s work. I understood that he had lost his sight and that his wife was reading to him several hours each day in the hospital. I will never forget the feeling of hearing his voice and visiting with him. He was so kind and gracious as he listened to my expressions of appreciation , esteem, and love. I felt as if I were speaking to a great and noble spirit. After patiently listening, he said, Stephen, you talk to me as if I am ready to check out. I still have two important projects I need to complete. How true to form! How true to character! How true to the principles of Logotherapy!
Frankl s desire and determination to continue to contribute reminded me of his collaborative work with Dr. Hans Selye of Montreal, Canada ”famous for his research and writings on stress. Selye taught that it is only when we have meaningful work and projects that our immune system is strengthened and the degenerative aging forces are slowed down. He called this kind of stress eustress rather than distress, which comes from a life without meaning and integrity. I m sure these two souls influenced each other, reinforcing both the physical and psychological benefits of Logotherapy, of man s search for meaning.
When Alex Pattakos graciously invited me to write a foreword to Prisoners of Our Thoughts and told me that the Frankl family had suggested this to him, I was both honored and excited to participate ”particularly since they felt my work with organizations in management and leadership beautifully paralleled Viktor Frankl s principles at work, the heart of this splendid book. My sense of the significance of this book deepened further when Pattakos wrote me, A year before he died, I was sitting with Dr. Frankl in his study and he grabbed my arm and said, ˜Alex, yours is the book that needs to be written!
I will never forget how deeply moved and inspired I was in the sixties when I studied Man s Search for Meaning and also The Doctor and the Soul. These two books, along with Frankl s other writings and lectures, reaffirmed my soul s code regarding our power of choice, our unique endowment of self-awareness , and our essence, our will for meaning. While on a writing sabbatical in Hawaii and in a very reflective state of mind, I was wandering through the stacks of a university library and picked up a book. I read the following three lines, which literally staggered me and again reaffirmed Frankl s essential teachings:
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our happiness.
I did not note the name of the author, so I ve never been able to give proper attribution. On a later trip to Hawaii I even went back to find the source and found the library building itself was no longer present.
The space between what happens to us and our response, our freedom to choose that response and the impact it can have upon our lives, beautifully illustrate that we can become a product of our decisions, not our conditions. They illustrate the three values that Frankl continually taught: the creative value; the experiential value; and the attitudinal value. We have the power to choose our response to our circumstances. We have the power to shape our circumstances; indeed, we have the responsibility, and if we ignore this space, this freedom, this responsibility, the essence of our life and our legacy could be frustrated.
One time I was leaving a military base where I had been teaching principle-centered leadership over a period of time. As I was saying goodbye to the commander of that base, a colonel, I asked him, Why would you undertake such a significant change effort to bring principle-centered living and leadership to your command when you know full well you will be swimming upstream against powerful cultural forces? You are in your thirtieth year and you are retiring at the end of this year. You have had a successful military career and you could simply maintain the successful pattern you ve had and go into your retirement with all of the honors and the plaudits that come with your dedicated years of service. His answer was unforgettable. It seared itself into my soul. He said, Recently, my father passed away. Knowing that he was dying, he called my mother and myself to his bedside. He motioned to me to come close to him so that he could whisper something in my ear. My mother stood by, watching in tears. My father said, ˜Son, promise me you won t do life like I did. Son, I didn t do right by you or by your mother, and I never really made a difference. Son, promise me you won t do life like I did.
This military commander said, Stephen, that is why I am undertaking this change effort. That is why I want to bring our whole command to an entirely new level of performance and contribution. I want to make a difference, and for the first time I sincerely hope that my successors do better than I have. Up to this point, I had hoped that I would be the high-water mark, but no longer. I want to get these principles so institutionalized and so built into our culture that they will be sustainable and go on and on. I know it will be a struggle. I may even ask for an extension so that I can continue to see this work through, but I want to honor the greatest legacy that my father ever gave me, and that is the desire to make a difference.
From this commander we learn that courage is not the absence of fear but the awareness there is something more important. We spend at least a third of our life either preparing for work or doing work, usually inside organizations. Even our retirement should be filled with meaningful projects, inside organizations or families or societies . Work and love essentially comprise the essence of mortality.
The great humanistic psychologist , Abraham Maslow, came to similar thoughts near the end of his life, which essentially affirmed Frankl s will to meaning theme. He felt that his own need hierarchy theory was too needs determined and that self-actualization was not the highest need. In the end, he concluded that self- transcendence was the human soul s highest need, which reflected more the spirit of Frankl. Maslow s wife, Bertha, and his research associate put together his final thinking along these lines in the book, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature.
My own work with organizations and with people in the world of work focuses a great deal on developing personal and organizational mission statements. I have found that when you get enough people interacting freely and synergistically, and when these people are informed about the realities of their industry or profession and their own culture, they begin to tap into a kind of collective conscience and awareness of the need to add value, to really leave a legacy, and they set up value guidelines to fulfill that legacy. Ends and means are inseparable; in fact, the ends pre-exist in the means. No worthy end can ever really be accomplished with unworthy means.
I have found in my teaching that the single most exhilarating, thrilling, and motivating idea that people have ever really seriously contemplated is the idea of the power of choice ”the idea that the best way to predict their future is to create it. It is basically the idea of personal freedom, of learning to ask Viktor Frankl s question: What is life asking of me? What is this situation asking of me? It s more freedom to rather than freedom from. It s definitely an inside-out rather than an outside-in approach.
I have found that when people get caught up in this awareness, this kind of mindfulness, and if they genuinely ask such questions and consult their conscience, almost always the purposes and values they come up with are transcendent ”that is, they deal with meaning that is larger than their own life, one that truly adds value and contributes to other people s lives ”the kinds of things that Viktor Frankl did in the death camps of Nazi Germany. They break cycles; they establish new cycles, new positive energies. They become what I like to call transition figures ”people who break with past cultural mindless patterns of behavior and attitude.
The range of what we see and do Is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice That we fail to notice, There is little we can do To change Until we notice How failing to notice Shapes our thoughts and deeds.
With this kind of thinking and with the seven magnificent principles Dr. Pattakos describes in this important book, a kind of primary greatness is developed where character and contribution, conscience and love, choice and meaning, all have their play and synergy with each other. This is contrasted with secondary greatness, described in the last chapter of this book ”being those who are successful in society s eyes but personally unfulfilled.
Finally, let me suggest two ideas on how to get the very most from this book. First, share or teach the core principles, one by one, to those you live with and work around who might be interested. Second, live them. To learn something but not to do is really not to learn. To know something but not to do is really not to know. Otherwise, if we just intellectualize these core principles and verbalize them, but do not share and practice them, we would be like a person who is blind from birth explaining to another what it means to see, based on an academic study of light, its properties, the eye and its anatomy. As you read this book, I challenge you to experience the freedom to choose your own attitude, to exercise your will to meaning, to detect the meaning of life s moments, to not work against yourself, to look at yourself from a distance, and to shift your focus of attention and extend beyond yourself. I suggest you consider learning this material sequentially, just by reading the principle, teaching it and applying it, then reading the next one, and so forth. You may want to simply read the entire book all at once to give yourself the overview, and then go back and learn them sequentially through your own experiencing. You will become a change catalyst. You will become a transition figure. You will stop bad cycles and start good ones. Life will take on a meaning as you ve never known it before. I know this is so from my own experiences and from working with countless organizations and individuals in the world of work.
As my grandfather taught me, and as Viktor Frankl taught me, life is a mission, not a career.