Leo Tolstoy – Pay it Forward

It may sound like a rather recent conception, the idea that we can render ourselves to do good for those in need and ‘pay it forward’ allowing good to “flow between men” That we can use information to map greatest need and focus our efforts Yet it may all be found is an essay written by Leo Tolstoy at the time of the 1882 Moscow census.

Doing good to people.  The words “doing good” are usually understood to mean, giving money.  But, in my opinion, doing good and giving money are not only not the same thing, but two different and generally opposite things.  Money, in itself, is evil.  And therefore he who gives money gives evil.  This error of thinking that the giving of money doing good, arose from the fact, that generally, when a man does good, he frees himself from evil, and from money among other evils.  And therefore, to give money is only a sign that a man is beginning to rid himself of evil.  To do good, signifies to do that which is good for man.  But, in order to know what is good for man, it is necessary to be on humane, i.e., on friendly terms with him.  And therefore, in order to do good, it is not money that is necessary, but, first of all, a capacity for detaching ourselves, for a time at least, from the conditions of our own life.  It is necessary that we should not be afraid to soil our boots and clothing, that we should not fear lice and bedbugs, that we should not fear typhus fever, diphtheria, and small-pox.  It is necessary that we should be in a condition to seat ourselves by the bunk of a tatterdemalion and converse earnestly with him in such a manner, that he may feel that the man who is talking with him respects and loves him, and is not putting on airs and admiring himself.  And in order that this may be so, it is necessary that a man should find the meaning of life outside himself.  This is what is requisite in order that good should be done, and this is what it is difficult to find.

is what I propose: (1) That all our directors and enumerators should join to their business of the census a task of assistance,—of work in the interest of the good of these people, who, in our opinion, are in need of assistance, and with whom we shall come in contact; (2) That all of us, directors and enumerators, not by appointment of the committee of the City Council, but by the appointment of our own hearts, shall remain in our posts,—that is, in our relations to the inhabitants of the town who are in need of assistance,—and that, at the conclusion of the work of the census, we shall continue our work of aid.  If I have succeeded in any degree in expressing what I feel, I am sure that the only impossibility will be getting the directors and enumerators to abandon this, and that others will present themselves in the places of those who leave; (3) That we should collect all those inhabitants of Moscow, who feel themselves fit to work for the needy, into sections, and begin our activity now, in accordance with the hints of the census-takers and directors, and afterwards carry it on; (4) That all who, on account of age, weakness, or other causes, cannot give their personal labor among the needy, shall intrust the task to their young, strong, and willing relatives.  (Good consists not in the giving of money, it consists in the loving intercourse of men.  This alone is needed.) Whatever may be the outcome of this, any thing will be better than the present state of things. Then let the final act of our enumerators and directors be to distribute a hundred twenty-kopek pieces to those who have no food; and this will be not a little, not so much because the hungry will have food, because the directors and enumerators will conduct themselves in a humane manner towards a hundred poor people.  How are we to compute the possible results which will accrue to the balance of public morality from the fact that, instead of the sentiments of irritation, anger, and envy which we arouse by reckoning the hungry, we shall awaken in a hundred instances a sentiment of good, which will be communicated to a second and a third, and an endless wave which will thus be set in motion and flow between men?  And this is a great deal.

Tolstoy, Leo; Hapgood, Isabel Florence (2011-03-24). What to Do? Kindle Edition.

Related : The Law of Love and the Law of Violence

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