What Will You Stake Your Life On? [What is Freedom Worth?]
28th February 2022
At this time of crisis I feel that I have to face what is happening in Europe head on. I cannot just let it go and talk about the things that are going on in my life. There are times when life takes a swerve and nothing seems the same as it was.
I am overwhelmed by the amazing response of the Ukrainian people to the invasion by Putin's Russia. I have to remind myself that this is happening in Europe, I thought that was all behind us. Still the shadows of 1953 in East Germany, 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Czechoslovakia, 2014 in Ukraine, let alone the long drawn-out conflict in the Balkans—all happening in my lifetime—hang over Europe. When will we truly see peace.
Staking Your Life
Some years ago I published a series of articles called a 40 Day Challenge for Men. It was successful at the time and I turned it into a book, Journey to the Core of the Masculine: Conversations about Men and Masculinity.
On Day 37 of the series I wrote an article called What Will You Stake Your Life On? In writing it I knew that most people would never be called on to live up to the title. It was meant as a metaphor for what is important in your life.
What is Life Worth?
I opened the article with,
What is the major principle in your life? What will you stake your life on? This has often been very clear for men. The periods of world war in the twentieth century had clear cut issues of freedom that many men related to.
Now here we are in the twenty-first century seeing an extraordinary example of this. We are seeing it both from one man and from a whole nation . We rarely see such clear examples of staking your life on something, but it is clear that this is such an example.
All fathers like to feel they would defend their children with their lives and hope that they never have to put this to the test. Beyond that it is far less clear cut. What do men have to defend? What is there in life that is worth, or demands, the ultimate sacrifice?
The answer, of course, is honesty, integrity, courage and a responsibility to those who look up to you, whether it is your children or a whole nation.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy is a hero who has become famous around the world this week for standing up to the aggression of Putin and Russia. He is standing his ground, remains in Kyiv, and refuses to be bullied. When the Americans offered to get him out of Ukraine, he responded that "the fight is here" and that he needed anti-tank ammunition, "not a ride".
He proceeded to do two important things. Firstly he communicated his determination to defeat Russia to his people, encouraging them to stand their ground and stake their lives of success. Secondly he set about persuading other nations to support him and Ukraine.
In his speech to the nation hours before Russia's invasion he said,
We know for sure that we don’t need the war. Not a Cold War, not a hot war, not a hybrid one. But if we are attacked by enemy troops, if they try to take our country away from us, our freedom, our lives, the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. Not attack, but defend ourselves. And when you will be attacking us, you will see our faces, not our backs, but our faces.
A report by Bethan McKiernan of The Guardian also quoted Zelenskiy as saying,
This the beginning of a war against Europe, against European structures, against democracy, against basic human rights, against a global order of law, rules and peaceful coexistence.
Anyone who wants to join the defence of Ukraine, Europe and the world can come and fight side by side with the Ukrainians against the Russian war criminals.
He used every persuasive technique he could muster to bolster support from others. A report by Daniel Boffey of The Guardian said,
EU officials have noted that the leadership of Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and particularly his intervention by video at the European council on Thursday night, has been a key driver in a change in approach towards the crisis by the 27 member states and their leaders.
In his appeal for aid during the leaders' late night summit in Brussels, Zelenskiy had told the EU's heads of state and government that with Kyiv encircled it may be the last time they would see him.
Determined but Flexible
He knew that he was staking his life on what he was doing. He has remained determined but flexible and has agreed to talks with Russia after getting them to drop their pre-conditions. What an amazing man!
In my article I continued,
What will you stake your life on? It is time to look at what is important to you. Maybe you have never been put to the test, if you were, suddenly, where would you stand.
Brendan Francis said,
If you greatly desire something, have the guts to stake everything on obtaining it.
Freedom is Vital
I have never faced this question and do not know the answer.
I think freedom is vital and is something precious that we tend to take for granted. Many men have laid down their lives—and are doing so as you read this—to ensure we have it.
I do not celebrate having the freedom in not having to lay down my life. But there are many people in this world who do not have that freedom, how would I feel in their position?
I just don't know, do you?
Today, the 28th of February, in this part of Spain, we are celebrating Andalucía day, when the Andalucían people voted for the statute that made Andalucía an autonomous community of Spain. By coincidence I am also celebrating my son's birth day, which was a year before the referendum here.
It all makes me think of freedom.