Solzhenitsyn on Evil and Grief

I have tremendous respect for the Russian people and their poets.

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn [Алекса́ндр Иса́евич Солжени́цын] wrote the following in The Gulag Archipelago. He won the Nobel prize for literature in 1970.

Every heart has the capacity for good or evil. If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Every heart balances the devil and sainthood but it is still just one heart.

During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

If you cannot imagine yourself doing exactly what was done to you, you had better put that rock down. The danger is only borne by you.

  • Socrates taught us: “Know thyself.”
  • Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren’t.
  • From good to evil is one quaver, says the proverb. And correspondingly, from evil to good.

Grief that is not accurately understood is felt as pain and anger.

In prison, both in solitary confinement and outside solitary too, a human being confronts his grief face to face. This grief is a mountain, but he has to find space inside himself for it, to familiarize himself with it, to digest it, and it him. This is the highest form of moral effort, which has always ennobled every human being. A duel with years and with walls constitutes moral work and a path upward (if you can climb it).

And 3 more for good measure:

  1. When you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again.
  2. One word of truth outweighs the whole world.
  3. Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career.

    2 Responses to Solzhenitsyn on Evil and Grief

    1. Carol Cross says:

      Does this imply that we should forgive franchisors who induce us to purchase their franchises without disclosing the actual high risk of the investment and the damage to our lives that will be involved in failure?

      Do franchisors rationalize their failure to truly disclose information that is material to new buyers as being their mission under the government regulation of franchising? Do franchisors rationalize that it is not “fraudulent inducement” because the government has given them the permission to hype and puff up their franchises outside of contract and to not disclose the risk as known to the franchisor, as long as the franchisor gets the signature of the buyer on the franchise agreement?

      When you read the testimony of an L&W Franchisee on Franchise Pick who KNOWS he has been defrauded and offers the proof on the Internet, and you understand that law and process was used against him to silence and humilitate him, you do understand that the enablers of the current status quo of franchising don’t consider that they are evil —even though they do evil things. They must rationalize that the activity they produce in the economy is serving the “public good” and are encouraged in their belief that the government recognizes their activities as contributing to the “greater good” and has developed public policy and law to protect them.

      So! What if 40 franchisees are destroyed financially and emotionally in standing up the 60 who break even, it is the 60 who break even and who hold up the franchise system that contributes to the economy that the regulators are concerned with.

      Does the end justify the means? Can good come out of evil?


    2. franchisefool says:


      Yes. Always forgive. Always.

      Not forgiving is like burning down a house to kill a rat. Holding on and not accepting that there is larceny in everyone’s heart (but often denied by people).

      In my study of the Big Cons, the swindlers say you can’t take money from an honest man. Franchising’s promise is this: I want to get the status of being a businessperson but I want it NOW!!

      Starting and running a small business is a very specialized and difficult thing to do. I freely admit that I thought it was going to be a breeze because I had “higher” learning. How arrogant and wrong I was.

      Being a small businessperson is like being a farmer: Anyone who eats thinks they could be a farmer, which is the farthest thing from the truth.

      We walk around will an over-inflated opinion of our own abilities and are further handicapped by not being aware of this disconnect. In short, many of us are Unskilled and Unaware of this situation.

      The hardest lessons are the ones that strike at what we value so dearly.

      Now Carol: It’s only money. Isn’t it?

      Over the centuries many wise people have warned against making wealth into a false god. We all have temporal needs, yes. But compared to the vast majority of people in this world, we have all have very luck genes.


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