American journalist Theo Padnos endured electrocution, beatings, and isolation while imprisoned in the Middle East. Long before his capture, he grew up in New England, went to school, and became fluent in French, German, Russian, and Arabic. In the Fall of 2012, he went to the Middle East to cover the rising chaos in Syria. After meeting three smugglers in a Turkish border town, Padnos found his way into the country. He and the men slipped through a barbed wire fence and into an abandoned house. Then the smugglers turned on him, saying they were from the al-Nusra Front, the Syrian arm of al-Qaeda. Padnos was held captive for the next 660 days.
In this episode of Aspen Ideas to Go, Padnos describes how he managed to survive, and the difficulties of adjusting to life in America after his return. David Bradley, owner of Atlantic Media, worked with colleagues to help secure the release of Padnos. Unbelievably, Bradley says Padnos emerged from captivity with grace, forgiveness, and generosity. He’s an example of someone who can adapt to life’s extreme lows. Bradley cites a Harvard study that shows people who respond well to lows such as the death of a loved one, a career stumble, or bankruptcy live a healthier and happier life later on. High character, he says, is produced in the low moments.
Discover more about what’s discussed in our podcast episode by clicking the links below.
- Five Hostages, The New Yorker
- My Captivity, Theo Padnos, The New York Times
- Syria: The View from a Former Hostage, The Atlantic
- How I Learned to Cope with Disappointment, Setback, and Crisis, Aspen Ideas Festival
- Good genes are nice, but joy is better, Harvard Gazette
“Aspen Ideas to Go” is a weekly show featuring fascinating speakers who have presented at the Aspen Ideas Festival and other public programs offered by the Aspen Institute. For a curated listening experience, subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or find an archive of episodes here.