Sometimes, when I read about people doing extraordinary things in the news, I wonder what they would be like on the job. What kind of workers would the traits displayed in the stories enable them to be? Usually, the thing I am considering is the level of dedication. And this idea popped into my mind again while I was reading this article by John Derbyshire on people who withstand torture.
Here is an example:
Mainland-Chinese dissident Liu Qing, jailed for having published transcripts of the "trial" of his friend Wei Jingsheng, was forced to spend four years sitting absolutely still on a tiny stool made of hard rope that cut into his skin. No books, no exercise, no conversation. Criminal inmates were stationed around him in shifts, to beat him if he moved.Arthur Koestler offered the following sketch of his friend, Alexander Weissberg, another one of those personalities whom nothing can break.
What enabled him to hold out where others broke down was a special mixture of just those character traits which survival in such a situation requires.What I love about this description is the way Koestler links all of Weissberg's strengths to traits we might, in other circumstances, consider shallow or vulgar!
A great physical and mental resilience — that jack-in-the-box quality which allows quick recuperation and apparently endless comebacks, both physical and mental.
An extraordinary presence of mind... A certain thick-skinnedness and good-natured insensitivity, coupled with an almost entirely extroverted disposition — notice the absence in Dr. Weissberg's book of any contemplative passage, of any trace of religious or mystic experience which is otherwise almost inevitably present in solitary confinement.
An irresponsible optimism and smug complacency in hair-raising situations; that "it can't happen to me" attitude, which is the most reliable source of courage; and an inexhaustible sense of humor.
Finally, that relentless manner of persisting in an argument and continuing it for hours, days or weeks... It drove his inquisitors nuts, as it sometimes had his friends.
True or not, I don't know but, as presented here, it's Weissberg's insensitivity that makes him such a happy-go-lucky, irrepressible guy.