I’m a student of how different people respond to stress. What makes some athletes crumble under pressure and others rise to the occasion? What make some business leaders struggle during difficult times, and others bounce back with creativity and innovation? Recently, Gary Saul Morson, reviewing Solomon Volkov’s book “Romanov Riches” wrote about he great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. It’s a great lesson in how extreme stress does different things to different people:
“Perhaps Mr. Volkov’s best story concerns Dostoevsky. Arrested along with others in the radical Petrashevsky circle, the young novelist, after months in prison, was taken from his cell one December day to face execution. A sentence of death was read out. The prisoners were given long white peasant blouses and nightcaps—their funeral shrouds. A priest enjoined them to repent. “We shall be with Christ,” Dostoevsky whispered to another prisoner, receiving the mocking reply: “A handful of dust!” With the first prisoners at the stake, and Dostoevsky, in the next group, watching, the riflemen took aim. After a minute that lasted an age, the drums beat a retreat. The czar had reduced their sentences but arranged for the mock execution as part of their punishment. [Afterwards] One of the prisoners went mad; another went on to write “Crime and Punishment.””
Does stress break you down, or make you stronger?