Sunday, May 07, 2017

Doing good

From Sidelights:
What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but absence of self-criticism. It is comparatively of little consequence that you occasionally break out and abuse other people, so long as you do not absolve yourself. The former is a natural collapse of human weakness; the latter is a blasphemous assumption of divine power. And in the modern world, where everybody is quarrelling about the urgent necessity of peace, nobody notices how this notion has really poisoned the relations of nations and men.

Thus the Irishman would never have minded the English saying he was mad; or even that he was murderous and slanderous and cruel. There was something to be said for the assertion; and Irishmen were often ready, if not to admit it about themselves, at least to admit it about each other. The trouble began when the Englishman advanced the obviously ludicrous proposition that he himself was sane; that he was practical and sensible and well-balanced. No wonder a whole nation went wild at so fantastic a fancy as that.

What the Prussian said about the French or the other Latins was simply ignorance: the ignorance found only among the seriously educated. It was what the Prussian said about the Prussian, that made half the world smell afar off something that stank with spiritual pride.

The moral is the same about much milder and more amiable things; indeed it is rather specially true about mild and amiable things. The trouble with the philanthropist is not that he does not love all men moderately, but rather that he generally loves one man too well. And, contemplating the sort of philanthropist who is also an egoist, I am tempted to recommend him to try being a man-hater, that men may more easily love him. I am tempted to say to him: Hate men as a sort of holiday; beat and kick them for a reasonable interval; burn down their houses, in moderation, and lay waste all civilization within reasonable limits: But do not be kind merely to exhibit your own kindness; for that is an insult that is never forgiven.

When you are helping people, pray for a spirit of humility; I had almost said, when you are helping them, pray for an appearance of helplessness. The deadly word ‘patronage’ is, like so many such, a word that has decayed from a much nobler meaning. But in this sense we may find another significance in the old conception of patron saints. It may mean that a man has jolly well got to be a saint, before he ventures to be a patron.

Chesterton nodded a bit here: he did not predict the rise of pat-your-self-on-the-back-for-being-so-observant self-criticism.

1 comment:

jaed said...

The trouble with the philanthropist is not that he does not love all men moderately, but rather that he generally loves one man too well.

I'd disagree with that. The kind of person I think he's talking about, uses others as a means to self-regard because his love for others is insufficient to prevent his using them, or seeing them as sort of lay figures he can arrange around himself. I don't think the self-regard is actual love of self, either. The problem here is defect, not excess. If he loved himself well, and loved these others as much as he loves himself, there'd be no problem with his philanthropy. On the contrary.

I have noticed something that might be relevant to his point about an appearance of helplessness, which is that if you want to start to become part of a community, looking for ways to be helpful works, but asking for help works even better.