I have been reading The Brother’s Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.* It is a brilliant book that will generously reward any reader. You can expect to read a few blog entries dealing with insights from this book.
Dostoevsky demonstrates remarkable knowledge of the human psyche in the chapter entitled “A Lady of Little Faith.” An elder in the church is probing into motivations and false humility with a woman who claims to love all of mankind and yet wonders if she has the perseverance to continue to love mankind in difficult circumstances.
“I heard the exact same thing, a long time ago to be sure, from a doctor,” the elder remarked. “He was then an old man, and unquestionably intelligent. He spoke just as frankly as you, humorously, but with a sorrowful humor. ‘I love mankind,’ he said, ‘but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons. In my dreams,’ he said, ‘I often went so far as to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men: one because he takes too long eating his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose. I become the enemy of people the moment they touch me,’ he said. ‘On the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity as a whole.'”
The elder goes on to say that,
. . . active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching. Indeed, it will go as far as the giving even of one’s life, provided it does not take long but is soon over, as on a stage, and everyone is looking on and praising. Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a whole science.#
Too well I see myself in these remarks. Could it be that I am just like that doctor or the woman of little faith?
*Note, there are multiple spellings of this Russian name owing to the fact that it has been translated from Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский. The two most common spellings are Dostoevsky and Dostoyevsky.
#Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamozov. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002 edition, p 56-58.