By Jay - Ottawa
Following events like an American presidential election can be a test of mental endurance and a challenge to the biliary tract. After a while, one begins to lose faith in humanity. Anyway, that was my day, until I came across an article about another president -- until late December, one our contemporaries, but from elsewhere and now gone forever. We still have his legacy. I’m speaking of Václav Havel (1936-2011). You may have seen him in the past on the News Hour (PBS), or read one of his books, or seen one of his strange plays. As a leader enmeshed in the tough choices of managing a country, he proved politics need not be one part lies and one part venality supported by greed. Havel was different.
A Toronto writer and translator, Paul Wilson, went to Havel’s funeral in Prague. His full account is linked above. Here are a few quotes in case you can’t take the time to read it all, but still need a boost as we continue to push through the big muddy of 2012 American politics.
Wilson describes a poster that went up all over Prague around the time of Havel's funeral, “a shot of Havel with his back to the camera, walking toward the ocean.” On the poster was a quotation summarizing “one of Havel’s most deeply held beliefs”: Then this paragraph near the end of Wilson’s tribute:
As I said, Václav Havel was different. It is not madness or naiveté to insist upon -- and to push a little harder for -- that difference.
Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
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.