Freedom in Captivity

Freedom in Captivity

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There are two books that have had a lasting impact on me, redefining my relationship to tough circumstances. They are Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela.

Frankl miraculously survived years in a German concentration camp, when many simply gave up, hopelessly, and died. His book details his experiences there, and also his explanation that a strong sense of purpose in life gave him the will to live and was key to his survival. He had something to live for: seeing his wife again, and he focused on her image throughout. His outlook was positive, and as a psychiatrist, he later used this awareness to develop new psychotherapeutic techniques.

Nelson Mandela’s autobiography describes his early life, his politics and his own period of incarceration for 27 years for ‘terrorism’ – i.e. opposing apartheid – and how he maintained his dignity and belief that he would one day be free, and so would his country. He practised walking with his head held high, even in his cell, because when he was free – he wanted to comport himself like a leader. He refused to allow prison to beat him down. And indeed, he walked free – a leader.

Each of these books tells the story of an inner freedom that can develop within people in the toughest of circumstances.

Elements of my own life are much more challenging than they used to be. They include the lack of choices arising from the much tougher financial circumstances I face, to the time-challenges created by having 3 young children.

But no matter how hard things are for me, someone has always overcome a worse struggle. Their stories are always out there, and knowing that brings me peace.

I reflect on both of these books, whenever I struggle with my self-perceived prisons. I always look to find some deep meaning and purpose in those experiences. I remind myself to understand that transcending our perception of day-to-day struggle is the path to more powerful leadership.

Understanding this can be a liberating experience. I use it as a mechanism to create my own freedom in captivity. Try it out for yourself. It isn’t always easy to find that inner sense of liberation, but my experience is – it is always there. Search for it. Persist. Think carefully. Look closely.

  • What is your own sense of purpose, in the struggle?
  • What points of growth can you find, in your most challenging situations? What have you learned?
  • How can you use the tough times to develop your skills and create a better future?

To freedom in captivity.


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  1. I found it interesting that when I read this article that at the bottom there aretwo boxes. One box invites the reader to “Love It “ the other box Hate It. At the time I read it 83 “Loved it”and 60 “Hated it.”.
    At first I thought well I quite liked it. Why would 60 Hate It ? My first thought was that 83 people must have experienced something me kind of limitation or adversity in their lives and would be to empathise with the thrust of the article and that 60 people had not yet experienced anything terribly adverse in their lives thus far. However I think it maybe perhaps the rigid choice the reader is given as two choices Love or Hate is so limited but it is the choice that we are conditioned to make in our western culture. This then leads to experiencing life Pleasure (Love) or
    Pain ( Hate) or “this” is to my preference or not to my preference. This leads inevitably to people making this judgement about everything …from the weather to the disposition of someone serving them in a shop to the colour of their neighbours new curtains. Inevitably people then fall into the pattern of just accepting things that suit their preference and focus on what doesn’t suit their preference and many then spend their entire lives complaining about what isn’t Right or what’s wrong. Most of these things or circumstances are out of their control and they start to feel that life is against them somehow. This then could be described as a background discontent in their lives.
    ThIs the conditioning trap that we fall into in our western culture. Accepting things or reality as it is makes for more contentment but this is difficult to achieve for people who have been conditioned into the mind set of Loving or hating when in Eastern traditions they just accept things as they are.

    Also people have a deep distrust of anyone who thinks they should be doing more to change things as in western society we are conditioned to accept the status quo and not oppose authority or the system. In a nutshell they feel disempowered and see anyone who wants to do things differently as a threat to their lives. It is also human nature to resist change as change involves embarrassing the unknown and this often engenders fear.

    I really like what you are doing. Getting people to see that any progress to do things differently requires co-operation not competition.

  2. Hi Marc,

    Always good to read your insights, thoughts and lessons learnt.

    Being a South African, now already 25 years after Mandela have freed us from Apartheid.
    I want to share a bit on what I experience in our land of freedom, and evaluate the suppressing matters.

    Liberation happens in the laws, and the rights of people. Unfortunately the key element of suppression wasn’t changed.
    What is one of the key elements for suppressing people… Education.

    Unfortunately pass rates was lowed, quality of education have dropped, and a culture of “it is owed to me have developed”
    I believe that online schools & education will change things and bring in equal opportunities for those who seeks it.

    The other observation more related to the post is how most South Africans are not living a life of freedom. Even if freedom are written in the laws. As you’ve indicated, it is the mindset behind the struggle that gives purpose and opens a live of freedom. Currently most people live in a life of waiting for the promises from political leaders 10 years back. I believe to accept where you are, decide where you want to be and working towards it. The best way is to take the people closest to you with you to build and change your community in the process.

    So to finish off I would say that, with Freedom comes Responsibility and it all starts off with a change in your awareness and mindset not only to help yourself, but in caring for your community.

    All the best

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