A safe room wherever you are

RECENT WARNINGS TO THE PUBLIC to prepare rooms that could be sealed in case of chemical or biological attack have been followed by debate over the effectiveness of such measures and counter warnings not to overreact or panic. Some observers have commented that, for the average citizen, being mentally prepared for challenges that may come is more important than taking physical precautions.

That raises the question of how a person can prepare mentally for possible danger. One way is to learn from the examples of people who have confronted great threats with courage and intelligence. For example, within the massive chronicle of Stalinist-era atrocities in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago are a few brief accounts of people who were unintimidated even in the face of the most brutal treatment. Solzhenitsyn relates how the mental freedom and calm they exhibited actually caused their oppressors to back down. He attributes their courage to their ability to transcend a merely personal and physical concept of themselves. They had grasped, he says, that the essence of their lives was their spirit and their conscience.

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