A. You Are What You Think.
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary lists seven definitions for the word attitude. For our purposes, let’s look at two:
1. A mental position with regard to a fact or state.
2. A [biological] state of readiness to respond in a characteristic way to a stimulus.
Notice that one definition deals with the psychological and the other looks at the biological.
In other words, our attitude encompasses both what we feel about – as author Douglas Adams calls it – “Life, the Universe and Everything,” – as well as how we react to it all. So, even before we begin to ask questions about how to live a better life or how to improve our self-image or grow more prosperous, we must examine how each of us looks at this thing called “Our Life.”
If we want to succeed, it’s important to understand that how we set our life’s compass – our attitude – will determine where we travel for the remainder of our journey.
Notice the two definitions above; the first assumes that attitude is a function of the brain. The second portrays a life in which the wellsprings of the mind flow into what we do physically, in other words, our habits, speech and even our health. Attitude is built from many materials, beginning with our genetic dispositions. That’s right, Mum and Dad have some influence on how our brains grow and mature as well as what kind of neuro-chemicals are mixed together in our amazing skulls.
The problem with many self-help programs is that they are based on the assumption that attitude is totally dependent on will or some kind of iron discipline.
Of course, it is true that we are responsible for our thoughts and we must choose to respond to life -there will be more on that later.
For those who truly want to change, however, it is important to approach our attitude from the standpoint of understanding who we are and what genetic traits we have inherited from our forebears. Why? Once we understand what psychological and emotional factors we can attribute to our relatives, we can then approach real change armed with enough information for a reality check.
This is not an argument in favor of determinism (i.e. the notion of “I’m the way I am because of my parents and I can’t do anything about it!”).
Even if you grew up with two of the angriest parents to ever grace human society, you can still overcome such a temperament.
But, the important thing to understand is that you may possess the same traits.
By acknowledging your heritage, you can move forward knowing what pitfalls (courtesy of your genes) may await you.. Before we use a compass on a long journey, we should always make sure it’s going to work properly.
Is it calibrated for true North? Just like a misaligned compass, our lives can become off-center because of our past.
Whether it’s mental abuse by a loved one or a negative attitude we absorb from popular culture, any examination of attitude must start with introspection.
B. So, How Do You View Life?
Never had the soil of bitterness and anger been so fertile than it was in Nazi concentration camps in World War II.
Men, women and children who were deemed undesirable by Hitler’s maniacal regime were shipped far from their homes on railway boxcars like human livestock to compounds built on humiliation, torture, degradation and usually death.
Starvation was the rule rather than the exception.
The few who survived physical death nevertheless left those camps mentally scarred.
For many, the experience changed their attitude irrevocably from happy, prosperous members of society to virtual skeletons that gnawed on the bones of resentment and hostility for the rest of their days.
It’s certainly understandable that a person could change their attitude on life after witnessing such human depravity.
For Victor Frankl, however, attitude always remained a matter of unchangeable direction- a direction that always pointed to a bright outlook on reality and the human condition.
A noted Austrian therapist and physician, Frankl’s sedate life crumbled one autumn day in 1942 when the SS snatched him and his wife and parents away to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Even as he endured torment after torment – watching his parents and wife waste away and die as they were moved from camp to camp – Frankl never lost his therapist’s ability to observe and define human behavior.
While working as a camp counselor and medical technician, Frankl noticed that inmates tended to exhibit one of two attitudes.
They would either give in to despair or they would choose to live a life of meaning despite the beatings, lack of food and outright brutality of their captors.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
In short, our attitude is the one thing we possess that can never be regulated, taxed, stolen or conned from us – unless we allow it be.