Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 13 of 70


Goodwill.—Amongst the small, but countlessly frequent and therefore very effective, things to which science should pay more attention than to the great, rare things, is to be reckoned goodwill; I mean that exhibition of a friendly disposition in intercourse, that smiling eye, that clasp of the hand, that cheerfulness with which almost all human actions are usually accompanied. Every teacher, every official, adds this to whatever is his duty; it is the perpetual occupation of humanity, and at the same time the waves of its light, in which everything grows; in the narrowest circle, namely, within the family, life blooms and flourishes only through that goodwill. Kindliness, friendliness, the courtesy of the heart, are ever-flowing streams of un-egoistic impulses, and have given far more powerful assistance to culture than even those much more famous demonstrations which are called pity, mercy, and self-sacrifice. But they are thought little of, and, as a matter of fact, there is not much that is un-egoistic[Pg 68] in them. The sum of these small doses is nevertheless mighty, their united force is amongst the strongest forces. Thus one finds much more happiness in the world than sad eyes see, if one only reckons rightly, and does not forget all those moments of comfort in which every day is rich, even in the most harried of human lives.


The Wish to Arouse Pity.—In the most remarkable passage of his auto—portrait (first printed in 1658), La Rochefoucauld assuredly hits the nail on the head when he warns all sensible people against pity, when he advises them to leave that to those orders of the people who have need of passion (because it is not ruled by reason), and to reach the point of helping the suffering and acting energetically in an accident; while pity, according to his (and Plato's) judgment, weakens the soul. Certainly we should exhibit pity, but take good care not to feel it, for the unfortunate are so stupid that to them the exhibition of pity is the greatest good in the world. One can, perhaps, give a more forcible warning against this feeling of pity if one looks upon that need of the unfortunate not exactly as stupidity and lack of intellect, a kind of mental derangement which misfortune brings with it (and as such, indeed, La Rochefoucauld appears to regard it), but as something quite different and more serious. Observe children, who cry and scream in order to be pitied, and therefore wait[Pg 69] for the moment when they will be noticed; live in intercourse with the sick and mentally oppressed, and ask yourself whether that ready complaining and whimpering, that making a show of misfortune, does not, at bottom, aim at making the spectators miserable; the pity which the spectators then exhibit is in so far a consolation for the weak and suffering in that the latter recognise therein that they possess still one power, in spite of their weakness, the power of giving pain. The unfortunate derives a sort of pleasure from this feeling of superiority, of which the exhibition of pity makes him conscious; his imagination is exalted, he is still powerful enough to give the world pain. Thus the thirst for pity is the thirst for self-gratification, and that, moreover, at the expense of his fellow-men; it shows man in the whole inconsiderateness of his own dear self, but not exactly in his "stupidity," as La Rochefoucauld thinks. In society-talk three-fourths of all questions asked and of all answers given are intended to cause the interlocutor a little pain; for this reason so many people pine for company; it enables them to feel their power. There is a powerful charm of life in such countless but very small doses in which malice makes itself felt, just as goodwill, spread in the same way throughout the world, is the ever-ready means of healing. But are there many honest people who will admit that it is pleasing to give pain? that one not infrequently amuses one's self—and amuses one's self very well—in causing mortifications to others, at least in thought, and firing off at them the[Pg 70] grape-shot of petty malice? Most people are too dishonest, and a few are too good, to know anything of this pudendum these will always deny that Prosper Mrime is right when he says, "Sachez aussi qu'il n'y a rien de plus commun que de faire le mal pour le plaisir de le faire."


How Appearance Becomes Actuality.—The actor finally reaches such a point that even in the deepest sorrow he cannot cease from thinking about the impression made by his own person and the general scenic effect; for instance, even at the funeral of his child, he will weep over his own sorrow and its expression like one of his own audience. The hypocrite, who always plays one and the same part, ceases at last to be a hypocrite; for instance, priests, who as young men are generally conscious or unconscious hypocrites, become at last natural, and are then really without any affectation, just priests; or if the father does not succeed so far, perhaps the son does, who makes use of his father's progress and inherits his habits. If any one long and obstinately desires to appear something, he finds it difficult at last to be anything else. The profession of almost every individual, even of the artist, begins with hypocrisy, with an imitating from without, with a copying of the effective. He who always wears the mask of a friendly expression must eventually obtain a power over well-meaning dispositions without which the expression of friendliness is not to be[Pg 71] compelled,—and finally, these, again, obtain a power over him, he is well-meaning.


The Point of Honour in Deception.—In all great deceivers one thing is noteworthy, to which they owe their power. In the actual act of deception, with all their preparations, the dreadful voice, expression, and mien, in the midst of their effective scenery they are overcome by their belief in themselves it is this, then, which speaks so wonderfully and persuasively to the spectators. The founders of religions are distinguished from those great deceivers in that they never awake from their condition of self-deception; or at times, but very rarely, they have an enlightened moment when doubt overpowers them; they generally console themselves, however, by ascribing these enlightened moments to the influence of the Evil One. There must be self-deception in order that this and that may produce great effects. For men believe in the truth of everything that is visibly, strongly believed in.


The Nominal Degrees of Truth.—One of the commonest mistakes is this: because some one is truthful and honest towards us, he must speak the truth. Thus the child believes in its parents' judgment, the Christian in the assertions of the Founder of the Church. In the same way men refuse to admit that all those things which men defended in former ages with the sacrifice of[Pg 72] life and happiness were nothing but errors; it is even said, perhaps, that they were degrees of the truth. But what is really meant is that when a man has honestly believed in something, and has fought and died for his faith, it would really be too unjust if he had only been inspired by an error. Such a thing seems a contradiction of eternal justice; therefore the heart of sensitive man ever enunciates against his head the axiom: between moral action and intellectual insight there must absolutely be a necessary connection. It is unfortunately otherwise; for there is no eternal justice.

Free Learning Resources