Václav Havel on Coming to Our Senses

Here are great lines from Czech playwright and activist Václav Havel (shown also in the image above):

A genuinely fundamental and hopeful improvement in “systems” cannot happen without a significant shift in human consciousness, and… it cannot be accomplished through a simple organizational trick. It’s hard to imagine the kind of system I’ve tried to describe here coming about unless man [sic], as I’ve said, “comes to his senses.” This is something no revolutionary or reformer can bring about; it can only be the natural expression of a more general state of mind, the state of mind in which man can see beyond the tip of his own nose and prove capable of taking on—under the aspect of eternity—responsibility even for the things that don’t immediately concern him, and relinquish something of his private interest in favor of the interest of the community, the general interest. Without such a mentality, even the most carefully considered project aimed at altering systems will be for naught.

I think he’s right. As a leader who seeks to effect change in systems (and in individuals), I find this sobering and ultimately liberating. There’s only so much change any one person can actually bring about. In the end, each needs to take responsibility for themselves.

(It’s been a long time since I read this quote in context, so I don’t know if Havel makes this connection, but the Parable of the Prodigal Son uses this same phrase to describe the younger son’s turnaround in Luke 15:17–“he came to his senses.”)

As a Christian, I would add, there is the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the “senses” of humankind. That can significantly change any person, system, and organization–if we would let it.