I was struck by the following as I read a reflection on Vaclav Havel (1936-2011) written by Paul Wilson and published in the New York Review of Books, 9th February 2012. Here it is. Highlights are mine.
“…a week in which the Czech newsstands were flooded with special commemorative editions of magazines and newspapers devoted to Havel’s passing, there was scarcely an aspect of his life and ideas that was not mulled over and parsed for deeper meaning, or recalled in pictures. The most iconic of those pictures—a shot of Havel with his back to the camera, walking toward the ocean—was turned into a poster and widely displayed around Prague, along with a quotation expressing 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.”
A ringing statement, but it was not quite in focus. What Havel meant by “something”—as his other formulations of the same belief make clear—was action. All his life, Havel lived by the belief that if you wanted something to happen, you had to do something to make it happen, and damn the consequences, including arrest and prison, and possibly even death. Speaking about the early days of the post-Stalin thaw, he once said: “The more we did, the more we were able to do, and the more we were able to do, the more we did.” It is a fine summary of his attitude, and, in a sense, his legacy. Havel was continually pushing the boundaries of the possible, and in doing so, he was able to create space for others to follow…”
… What put him in a league of his own is the corollary: you act not to achieve a certain outcome; you act because it is the right thing to do. That is what he meant by “living in truth,” a notion he explores in some depth in his most radical and enduring work: The Power of the Powerless.
Like many great Czechs before him, Havel insisted on the importance of truth, but with a difference. “Truth and love,” he was fond of saying, “must prevail over lies and hatred.” He was often ridiculed for what seemed like a Hallmark sentiment (“Why love?” people asked), but he defended the slogan by referring to one of his greatest insights: truth, by itself, is a malleable concept that depends for its truthfulness on who utters it, to whom it is said, and under what circumstances. As a playwright, Havel turned this insight into a dramatic device: in most of his plays, the main characters constantly lie to one another and to themselves, using words that, in other circumstances, would be perfectly truthful. Truth by itself is not enough: it needs a guarantor, someone to stand behind it. It must be uttered with no thought for gain, that is, in Havel’s words, with a love that seeks nothing for itself and everything for others…
…Havel was a deeply spiritual man who expressed his spirituality, if that is the right word, almost entirely through his actions in the world…
… Havel’s generosity toward Sudeten Germans points to one of his finest, and most radical, qualities: his capacity for forgiveness…“and Havel knew that the only way to break out of [the] …cycle of hatred and vengeance was to forgive those who have wronged us. If,” he added, “they ask to be forgiven”…”
You can read the full New York Review of Books piece, here.
Thanks for Jason Goroncy for bringing it to my attention.