Here in the States we are well into our 4th of July weekend…BBQ’s galore, weather that beckons you to the nearest beach, lake, pool, or sprinkler and the last minute dash for sparklers. In the midst of all the parties, spray on sunscreen, and search for the most spectacular fireworks displays, our minds draw to the freedom we’ve been granted living in the U.S. However, for the last week, my conversations and work with divorcing individuals has me contemplating our personal freedoms.
When I consider personal freedom, I think of Victor Frankl, the psychiatrist and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” chronicling the horrors of concentration camp life where he was a prisoner. In his book, Frankl explores the various ways in which a person either loses or finds a reason to live even in the worst, and most demoralizing of human circumstances. He says, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Frankl also poignantly shares that there is a vast difference between freedom and liberty. On the one hand, Frankl had a great deal of freedom. He had a freedom that stretched beyond the confines of concentration camp conditions. Like Frankl, any one of us has the freedom to choose our attitude about the circumstances we face. Conversely, the guards that ran the camps and took so much from the prisoners, including lives, had a great deal of liberty, but very little freedom. In other words, the SS took a great deal of liberty to follow orders as they were given and to behave brutally, but they exercised very little freedom to think for themselves, outside of their circumstances or authority and choose their own way.
This whole idea of freedom vs. liberty caused me to think about the liberties that so many couples take in handling their divorce. In this blessed country we have the liberty to litigate. Many take the liberty to extend the fight, bicker over every little minor possession, and run the other party into the ground financially. Enter in, the “American way” – a right to fight, and a fight to be “right”, to seek retribution, and to feel powerful or in control again. It’s an ego trip, and it’s short lived with a massive deficit at the end. The bill to pay is the loss of assets, loss of true freedom, loss of a functional relationship with your former spouse, and loss of genuine happiness or peace. Is this really the American way? Ask the millions of divorce individuals who years, even decades after their divorce are still all bent out of shape over the circumstances of their divorce and will angrily relive the story years later. Certainly, your attorney will tell you, it is your liberty to choose the manner in which you accomplish the means to the end of your marriage.
Our true freedom however, lies in our ability to choose independent of circumstances, including what another party is or is not doing, or the “liberty” an attorney might say you have. Ironically, to choose your attitude NOT based on circumstances is also where your greatest power, control, happiness and peace reside because it is internal. Circumstances are always external. Sometimes, using our internal freedom of choice, discernment, and heart provides the greatest liberties.
To exercise your greatest degree of freedom is to make choices based on where you want to go vs. where you are. If you know you are miserable right now, but you’d sincerely like to be happy in the very short future, then allow your decisions and choices to be made based on moving you closer to happiness. When we make decisions based on the misery we currently feel, then we continuously act from that place, and create more of the same. It becomes a vicious cycle. While this may sound simple (and it is simple), I recognize it is not easy. Ask for help with this. There are so many professionals that want the best for your family, your future and your assets, not the least of which are mediators, therapists, coaches, and select attorneys.
Be bold and brave! Choose to act now on a future that feels good, whole and rings with laughter again. I guarantee you, it’s right within your reach. This is your greatest freedom. Happy 4th of July!