Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Curious Case of Self-Preservation

Almost everyone knows the name of Nelson Mandela, the extraordinary South African freedom fighter who went from prisoner to president. Another prisoner of conscience, albeit one with less iconic stature, was granted clemency this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon of vast wealth, spent ten years in a Russian penitentiary for criticizing the authoritarian Putin publicly. Ill advised about the risks of speaking out, MK was whisked off his private jet by Russian authorities and sent straight away to the slammer with a stiff sentence. Ten years into the prime of his life, behind bars, he changed for the better.

While the intricacies of Russian politics elude anyone who is not an elite member of the Kremlin or a CIA agent, this particular man of dubious wealth made an interesting statement to the New York Times yesterday“When I crossed the threshold of prison...I understood this is for a long time. And then immediately quit smoking. If they are going to bury me, let them do it themselves, without my participation.”

The world may not need more oil tycoons, but this brand of optimism contains within it a marvelous hope for the future; a life-affirming act in the face of a real downer that might crush the spirit of a lesser man.

Thank you, Mr. Khodorkovsky, for proving that realization is possible under adverse conditions. This apparachik, turned wheeler-dealer billionaire, turned political prisoner, now thinks about the fate of less fortunates, abandoned behind bars in icy Russian lands. Sometimes, worst-case scenarios turn into blessings that speed a being along the evolutionary path. 

May we all rise to the challenges that come our way, turning obstacles into stepping stones.

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