Tyranny is something that all of us are exposed to at some point in our life. Whether it be from an overbearing parent, an authoritarian teacher, or something much worse. It’s a particularly negative experience to be forced to act in a way that you don’t want to.
It can be demoralizing, disheartening, and painful. And what people have done throughout history is resist tyranny. There are countless examples. From Robin Hood, to Jesus Christ, the Founding Fathers. These figures all represent something special. In the face of cruel superiors, they say,
“No, I will not submit. I will stand by my morals, and face the consequences of my actions.”
That kind of fortitude and courage is something that anyone can admire and should emulate. But what happens with tyranny is that it becomes much more vicious the more tyrannical the entity is. Let’s take the authoritarian father for example.
The more the father tries to control his family’s life, the more vicious he has to be to do it. If verbal abuse isn’t enough, then he has to resort to beatings, and if that isn’t enough, the beatings have to get worse until he is obey. And in different contexts, resistance to tyranny can be extremely painful resulting in a miserable death. Jesus died by crucifixion, one of the worst ways to die, and The Founding Fathers all faced the possibility of dying while fighting for Independence. But virtue was on their side.
As Thomas Jefferson once said, resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. And it’s the fact that they faced very real and serious consequences that made their resistance so honorable.
One of the best examples of resisting tyranny comes from a Russian man Alexander Solzhenitsyn. You see, solzhenitsyn had been sent to the soviet gulag which was one of the worst things that could have ever happened to you in the Soviet Union.
The gulag was a place of suffering, torture, and misery run by sadistic brutes. They wanted to break the human spirit of the inmates, and in many cases, they did. Solzhenitsyn was one of the few who had been able to keep his sanity despite the terrible living conditions. He spent the rest of his life working on writings that ultimately helped bring down the Soviet regime.
The first book that made him popular was one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. It was really quite simple. He described a single day in the gulag through the eyes of a prisoner.
There are endless reasons for Ivan to be demoralized and miserable. To be broken. But he doesn’t allow that to happen to himself. Instead of letting the guards win, he maintains his sanity with his hat. This becomes symbolic throughout the entire novel.
He “took his cap off his shaved head-however cold it was, he would never eat with it on. He stirred up the cold gruel and took a quick look to see what was in his bowl. It was the usual thing.”
Taking off your hat before you eat represents manners and civility. And in such a cruel and monstrous environment, that was the only thing that kept him sane. No one had to force him to do it. Ivan knew how much power this small, simple action gave him.
And while the small action does not seem too significant, it made all the difference in the world. It stopped the guards from getting what they wanted, to demoralize him.
Unlike many stories we’re used to hearing, he didn’t kill the sadistic guards, he didn’t blow the gulag up, he didn’t free all the prisoners. He didn’t need to.
There’s a lesson in that for all of us. Because we all face tyrannical people and structures throughout our daily lives. Life is hard. But we don’t need to burn the entire structure to the ground or kill anyone. We just need to take off her hat before we eat because that makes all the difference.