Soberness and Balance

I am enjoying the chapter, “Facing the Establishment”, in Vaclav Havel’s book Disturbing the Peace. Written in an interview format, he answers some questions about his activities during, and his reflections of the period surrounding the Prague Spring.

Haval took part in a lot of debates in universities and faculties: “I took part in meetings, I wrote declarations, and I felt I had to be involved in all of this…I stressed, perhaps somewhat more energetically than others, that every concession gives rise to further concessions, that we cannot back down, because behind us there is only an abyss, that we must keep our promises and demand that they be kept. I struggled, as was my habit, against all kinds of illusions and every form of self-deception. However influenced I might have been by that agitated period, I tried to achieve a soberness and a balance. In the spirit of the old Tvar approach–although with obvious differences, for this was a different level of activity, after all-I opposed to every grandiose but vague demand the need simply to remain steadfast to the end in matters that were smaller, perhaps, but more concrete.”

I think he understands human nature very well:

At one large meeting of the central committees of all the artistic unions, a well-known actor….made a dramatic appeal for the establishment of a national tribunal to try Indra, Bilak, and other traitors of the nation. Hysterical nonsense. I got up immediately and replied that, instead of suggesting something that no one could ever hope to carry off, it would be better to attempt sticking by the solidarity agreement that every cultural worker had signed (and which was shortly after that betrayed by most of them).  I said it was a thousand times more valuable to insist, regardless of the consequences, on something more modest but realistic, than to pacify one’s conscience by firing off loudmouthed proposals that evaporate forever the moment they’re made and therefore commit no one to do anything about them.  Histrionic emotions expressed through proposals like that are extremely unreliable: they may be grand today, but the resignation felt tomorrow can be equally as great…Sober perseverance is more effective than enthusiastic emotions, which are all too capable of being transferred, with little difficulty, to something different each day.

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