July 17, 2020

In a very brief summary that will not do this book or its author full justice, The Choice is the autobiography of Dr. Edith Eger, a survivor of the Holocaust death camps who then immigrated to America and earned her Ph.D in psychology.

Her book toggles between a retelling of her childhood and as a teenage prisoner-of-war, and a more recent history of her key interactions with a handful of patients under her care. Her culminating point is this: in every single moment, we have a choice. A choice of fear, bravery, kindness, cruelty, contentedness, dissatisfaction, blame, forgiveness, and on and on. The essence of her book is that our life’s happiness is far less dependent on what happens to us externally, and nearly entirely dependent upon how we internalize, embrace and respond to those circumstances.

“No one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.” Dr. Eger’s mother, Ilona, as they arrived at Auschwitz.

Eger has leveraged this power of choice to personally survive death camps, and to treat  soldiers, couples, and individuals who have experienced all forms of trauma. As readers, we’re left with a profound understanding of the control we may be able to exert over our own decisions and happiness when facing extraordinary stress.

As part of my commitment to finish Bill Gates’  five recommended books for Summer 2020 , I hosted an evening discussion on Eger’s book. Here are some of the most profound points of conversation:

  • Eger acknowledges that she herself, after years of study and becoming an expert in the psychology of trauma, must still work at the choices she makes.
  • It is not helpful to put value or ranking on the trauma people are dealing with. No trauma is prioritized as “worse” than another, she suggests.
  • We can either respond in a reactive, unthinking manner, or we can look for the truth in each situation and be thoughtful and intentional in our responses.
  • We must have a willingness to learn about our choices.
  • Faith in something and courage in the present moment contribute to our capacity for resilience.

Eger mentions her connection to another Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, and his belief that fear and love cannot coexist. Eger continues to practice that belief, even now into her 92nd year.