Reading Havel’s obituaries, among the many tributes, what resonates with me is Jeffrey Sach’s parallel between Havel’s courage to live in truth and our challenges in today’s world of spin doctors, greed and continued suppression:
Havel’s death comes at a time of massive demonstrations in Russia to protest ballot fraud; violence in Egypt as democratic activists battle the deeply entrenched military; an uprising in rural China against corrupt local officials; and police in body armor violently dismantling the Occupy protest sites in American cities. Power and truth remain locked in combat around the world.
Much of today’s struggle – everywhere – pits truth against greed. Even if our challenges are different from those faced by Havel, the importance of living in truth has not changed.
Today’s reality is of a world in which wealth translates into power, and power is abused in order to augment personal wealth, at the expense of the poor and the natural environment. As those in power destroy the environment, launch wars on false pretexts, foment social unrest, and ignore the plight of the poor, they seem unaware that they and their children will also pay a heavy price.
Moral leaders nowadays should build on the foundations laid by Havel. Many people, of course, now despair about the possibilities for constructive change. Yet the battles that we face – against powerful corporate lobbies, relentless public-relations spin, and our governments’ incessant lies – are a shadow of what Havel, Michnik, Sakharov, and others faced when taking on brutal Soviet-backed regimes.
In contrast to these titans of dissent, we are empowered with the instruments of social media to spread the word, overcome isolation, and mobilize millions in support of reform and renewal. Many of us enjoy minimum protections of speech and assembly, though these are inevitably hard won, imperfect, and fragile. Yet, of the profoundest importance and benefit, we are also blessed with the enduring inspiration of Havel’s life in truth.