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My colleague Raghu Krishnamoorthy told me the other day, “We’re all in the same storm, but on different boats.” What a beautiful way to portray our shared burden in this crisis – and our unique personal experience of it.
After five weeks in lockdown, one thing, to me, is certain – I am changing. New habits are forming, and old attachments are dissolving. The experts are telling us how the world will be different after the lockdown ends, but perhaps it is even more important to reflect on how we will be different.
And that is what I take away from the story “The Bet” by one of the world’s greatest short-story writers, Anton Chekhov. A few weeks ago, a monk (and mentor) shared this story with me. I was gripped by it. I decided to adapt it for today’s times, to help draw out its timeless lesson for our age. This week’s newsletter features my adaptation of “The Bet”. If you find it thought-provoking, all credit belongs to Chekhov and my monk/mentor.
I welcome hearing your insights, thoughts, and feedback, so feel free to write to me at email@example.com.
Until our paths intersect again next week.
Welcome to Intersections…
If this is your first Intersections email, welcome! In this weekly newsletter, I bring a mathematician’s rigor and a truth-seeker’s spirit to some of today’s most vexing questions about authenticity, success, leadership, human potential, and more. I intersect science with spirituality, profit with purpose, East with West, inner with outer, and life with leadership.
I am a Professor of Practice at Columbia Business School, and founder of Mentora Institute, dedicated to creating a new model of leadership for the 21st century where executives create ever-growing Outer Impact through ever-deepening Inner Mastery.
Without further ado...
© Hitendra Wadhwa, 2020
Author’s note: Our age of Coronavirus inspired me to write this adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet”. I am indebted to Swami Krishnananda for pointing me to this story.
Michael, a banker, was hosting a number of friends for dinner at his New York penthouse, when Antonio, a lawyer, began a heated debate with him. Antonio had asserted that capital punishment was cruel, but Michael countered, “Yes but isn’t life imprisonment even more inhumane? You are put in a prison cell for life. The whole world is out there, but you cannot step out and enjoy it. I would prefer immediate death to being caged in this way for the rest of my life. It would be torture!”
“Wrong,” said Antonio, “Life imprisonment still brings possibilities with it. Death is final. I would prefer life imprisonment, any day.”
“I’m willing to bet five million dollars you would not!”, retorted Michael, who was known to have a brash temperament and had drunk quite a lot by then.
Antonio agreed with great alacrity to take on the bet. The next hour was spent laying out the terms of the agreement. For five years, Antonio would voluntarily go into solitary confinement in the small cottage at the back of Michael’s country home. He would have the right to leave at any time, but if he did, Michael would win the bet. Michael’s staff would bring Antonio a daily supply of food, basic living resources, and any books he may request, and a security guard would be placed on duty outside the cottage to ensure Antonio did not slip out unnoticed. Antonio would not have access to any digital gadget that could connect him with the outside world.
If Antonio was able to keep himself in the cottage for five years, he would win the bet – and Michael would give him five million dollars. The bet was struck in the presence of their friends, and gained wide attention and likes on their social media feeds. The appointed hour came, and Antonio was ushered into the cottage.
In his first few days, Antonio enjoyed his sudden freedom from work. The comfortable cottage was a welcome change from his small Manhattan apartment. But very soon, he started to feel miserable. The parties, strolls, dinners, friends, vacations, museums, gym, law courts – he had taken these experiences so much for granted in the past, and now he missed them ever so much. He questioned his own sanity in agreeing to the bet. He ordered a variety of lavish meals to entertain his palate, but soon tired of them all. He counted and recounted every object in the cottage to keep his mind sane. He socialized with the serving staff he had barely greeted in past visits to Michael’s home, ever curious about world events and ever hungry for human connection. On some mornings, Antonio stayed in bed for as long as he could to while away the hours, but that only made his condition worse. On other days, he would stare out of the windows, wistfully. The cottage was a mess, since Antonio was simply not bothered with making his bed or cleaning his dishes. When Michael heard about Antonio’s state of mind, he smirked. “It will not be long before Antonio dashes out of the cottage in desperation and breaks his commitment. He is even more tortured than a convict in prison because he has the freedom to leave the cottage whenever he wishes, and so he must every minute make a conscious choice to stay in that torture chamber of social isolation.” Continue Reading.