3. Gulag

In the book The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature) describes his experiences in the Soviet forced labor camp system. (Solzhenitsyn himself was arrested in 1945 for making derogatory comments about Joseph Stalin in letters to a friend.)

At the start of the book Solzhenitsyn describes the science behind arrests used by the Soviet Union, mainly in the 1920’s-40s. Solzhenitsyn gives particular detail to the way in which those who were being arrested almost never fought back. In fact he writes that, “almost no one tried to run away.”

Solzhenitsyn explains that, “…people who were arrested were guilty of nothing and were therefore unprepared to put up any resistance whatsoever.” When being arrested people did not even shout or ask those around them for help. Afterfall, “only a revolutionary has slogans on his lips that are crying to be uttered aloud; and where would the uninvolved, peaceable average man come by such slogans? He simply does not know what to shout.”

What a poignant phrase! In order to shout, sounds actually have to leave your mouth. Because Solzhenitsyn and millions of his compatriots were innocent they did not anticipate their arrests and were not prepared to fight back, escape, or even know what to yell for help. At the moments when their lives hung in jeopardy they offered no resistance.

Hopefully none of us will ever be confronted with a situation of comparable evil and intensity. However, I believe there are lessons to be learned from Solzhenitsyn’s account that can be used in our everyday lives.

  1. The world can be a tough, unfair place. At times you will interact with people with poor intentions, who because of no fault of your own, are either simply placing their interests above yours, or worse, looking to do you harm.
  2. If you have not prepared in advance, it will be incredibly difficult to effectively stand up for yourself in those moments.


Contemplating this topic over the years, and researching it this week, has left me with follow-up questions:

  1. Will there be unintended negative repercussions to preparing for fights that have not occurred?
  2. How do you identify when someone is placing their interests above yours, or worse, looking to do you harm?
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