Vaclav Havel on Hope and the Power of the Powerless

madonna1.jpgScott Driscoll blogs…Vaclav Havel, former Czech president and leader of the Velvet Revolution, died in December 2011.  To commemorate their hero, a Czech newspaper posted a shot of Havel along with a quote purported to express one of Havel’s most deeply held beliefs: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” That vague “something” had a much more particular meaning to the playwright who went to prison for his convictions.  Let me qualify “went to prison.”  As a political prisoner behind the Iron Curtain, Havel was not enjoying time out in a weight-loss spa.  Below is a quote from my novel, Better You Go Home, in which one character explains to another what prison conditions were like.  This was based on a second-hand account related to me.

“For two or three days, they put you in a room even colder than this. No windows. The walls are not soundproof. You hear screams and praying. Sometimes the sounds are coming from you. They flood the floor of your cell with cold water and take away your clothes, all but your underwear, and they give you a little scrap of a blanket and let you shiver under bright lights. The slop bucket is never more than a meter or two from your nose. There is no way to escape the smell or the light or the cold. To eat they make you crawl to the metal slot that’s set at about knee level in the door. The bread has mold and the dishwater soup gives you diarrhea, but you eat it, what else are you going to do?”

According to Havel, you act, knowing this sort of treatment will be the result (and these are just the day to day conditions, softening, as it were, for the interrogations) because it’s the “right thing to do.”  And the right thing to do is “living in truth.” And living in truth is one power held by the otherwise powerless that cannot be taken away without consent.  If the powerless give their consent, Havel believed, then they are complicit.  (More on this in the next blog.)

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