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Quotes: What would you risk?

Don't Babble! Keep Your Tongue Behind Your Teeth

In much of the world today, people take for granted the privilege to say what they please … which is why the Internet teems with nearly 160 million public blogs. But in the Soviet Union of the 1970s, citizens paid a price for speaking up.

Mstislav Rostropovich was a master cellist, one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. As such, he and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, lived a prosperous life in Moscow, where great artists were treated like royalty. But Rostropovich’s existence was the exception under the Soviets. Increasingly, dissidents were telling the world about the rule. The best known of these dissidents, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, won the Nobel Prize for literature in October 1970, prompting even harsher attacks on his controversial work.

Most people living Rostropovich’s charmed life would have ignored politics to protect themselves. But as Tim Page reported in the Washington Post, the master cellist had different priorities. He risked his favored position by speaking out on behalf of his friend Solzhenitsyn and staging a formal public protest supporting the dissident. The Soviets struck back at what Rostropovich loved most: his music.

Professional engagements dwindled for the cellist and his wife. Their recordings were no longer played on state radio. When Rostropovich was allowed to perform with other musicians, his name was excluded from published reviews. But finally in 1974, he and his wife were granted a two-year visa to tour abroad. They sought asylum in the United States where Rostropovich thrilled Western audiences and eventually fulfilled his dream of becoming a premier conductor leading the National Symphony Orchestra. He didn’t visit Russia again until 1990 when he was invited to perform for Mikhail Gorbachev. He returned to his beloved homeland for good as a dying man in 2007. One of his last visitors was Russian President Vladimir Putin, a gesture of respect usually reserved for national heroes.

Are you willing to risk what you have for a principle or dream?


“No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his well-being, to risk his body, to risk his life, in a great cause.”

—Theodore Roosevelt, president of the United States


“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

—Anais Nin, French novelist


“Great deeds are usually wrought at great risks.”

—Herodotus, Greek historian


“Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to save it.”

—Jean Jacques Rousseau, Swiss philosopher


“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

—Muhammad Ali, boxing champion


“It is part of a good man to do great and noble deeds, though he risk everything.”

—Plutarch, Greek essayist


“That’s the risk you take if you change: that people you’ve been involved with won’t like the new you. But other people who do will come along.”

—Lisa Alther, American author


“Every man must have the right fearlessly to think independently and express his opinion about what he knows, what he has personally thought about and experienced, and not merely to express with slightly different variations the opinion which has been inculcated in him.”

—Mstislav Rostropovich, Russian cellist, conductor, and human rights advocate


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