The following is a true story from Lewis Smedes in Shame and Grace:
I wonder if you’ve heard of the Mongolian peasant principle? It was developed during the time when Joseph Stalin ruled Russia. Mr Stalin was not a very nice person – he made a habit of sending his opponents off to prison. But before packing them off to the gulag he made them confess to crimes they’d never committed.
It’s rumoured that Stalin had a psychologist working for him who could get a person to confess to just about any crime, regardless of whether they’d actually committed it or not. The psychologist said that the secret of his success was the Mongolian peasant principle.
It works like this. Imagine a poor, shabby and “unimportant” man is brought into a large office that obviously belongs to an important person. Everything in the office smacks of authority: the dark mahogany walls; the huge oak desk; the high leather chair; the grey-haired general with rows of medals on his chest sitting there proudly and powerfully.
The general speaks to the shabby, uncomfortable visitor. “I have a million roubles in my desk drawer. Here, take a look, they’re all yours.”
“All mine?” says the shabby, uncomfortable visitor
“Yes, all yours, on one condition.”
“You must press this small red button on my desk” says the general.
“What happens when I press the button?”
“An old man in Mongolia drops dead.”
“Yes. He dies at once, without any pain.”
“But why, what did he do?”
“That’s none of your business. Trust me. It is good for the people. All you need to know is that the moment you press the button, the peasant dies. And you get a million roubles”
The poor, shabby, unimportant, uncomfortable man sits silent for a long moment. Then he slowly reaches forward and pushes the red button. He takes the money and goes home. But for the rest of his life he’s haunted by the memory of what he did. He can’t bring himself to spend a cent his ill gotten gain. He’s tormented day and night, until finally, 5 years later, he commits suicide. The million roubles are found stuffed in a sack under his bed; the State takes them back on the day of his funeral.
“You see” Stalin’s psychologist says, “everybody has a Mongolian peasant in his life. Everyone has done something for which they feel deep shame. I hunt around in their memory until I find it. Then once I’ve found the peasant I dangle him in front of their eyes until the person is writhing in shame for being such a wretched human being. He will confess to anything to atone for his shame.”