Choosing One’s Attitude

My father was a great storyteller who had an appreciation for the absurd. With Scotch in hand, he was a jolly goodfella whom people enjoyed. Although he had a great sense of humor, my father was not an optimist. While he could laugh so hard that he’d cry, the proverbial glass was ALWAYS half empty.

We were a Catholic family and like any Catholic of his generation, he could quote the Catechism. The first question in that book is: “Why did God make us?” The classic answer is, “God made us to know, love and serve Him in this world, and be happy with Him in the next.” My father would quote this and point out, “It doesn’t say anything about being happy in this world. We’re not meant for happiness.”

This belief, which is a perversion of Catholic thought, allowed him to explain every disappointment, misstep, and misfortune that happened in life. He was a fatalist and as such had low expectations for life. Dreams didn’t amount to much because they most likely would be decimated. Hopes were pleasant but did little more than aspirin.

I had to work hard to understand how his belief system was grounded in a lie – a lie that allowed him to not aspire for anything of value.

I don’t think my father was unique in his fatalism. In fact, I think it’s far more common than we care to admit in this feel-good society of ours.

Mildred (85) is the oldest resident in my condo building. She told me that she and her husband raised their family in this building although she had never wanted to live here. She wanted to own a house but her husband wouldn’t hear of it. She lamented, “I’ve been miserable in this place for thirty years. Can you believe that?” And I did detect a twinge of pride in her voice.

I laughed, saying, “Of course I can!”

It’s easy to surrender power and believe that ultimately life is controlled by forces outside our control.

Viktor Frankl, one of last century’s greatest writers and a survivor of Auschwitz, fervently believed that, “We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of his freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Be powerful. Think positive!

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