“What Shall We Do?” by Leo Tolstoy

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. 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.

I sit on a man’s neck, I weigh him down, and I demand that he shall carry me; and without descending from his shoulders I assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him, and that I desire to ameliorate his condition by all possible means, only not by getting off of him.

Money is not needed. What is needed is self-sacrificing action; what is needed are people who would like to do good, not by giving extraneous sin-money, but by giving their own labor, themselves, their lives. … Good consists not in the giving of money, it consists in the loving intercourse of men. This alone is needed.

Why not hope that every thing will be accomplished? Why not hope that we shall accomplish thus much, that there shall not exist in Moscow a single person in want of clothing, a single hungry person, a single human being sold for money, nor a single individual oppressed by the judgment of man, who shall not know that there is fraternal aid for him? …Why not hope that some time the people will wake up, and will comprehend that every thing else is a delusion, but that this is the only work in life?

Why not hope that the same thing may happen in society and humanity which suddenly takes place in a diseased organism, when the moment of convalescence suddenly sets in? The organism is diseased this means, that the cells cease to perform their mysterious functions; some die, others become infected, others still remain in perfect condition, and work on by themselves. But all of a sudden the moment comes when every living cell enters upon an independent and healthy activity: it crowds out the dead cells, encloses the infected ones in a living wall, it communicates life to that which was lifeless; and the body is restored, and lives with new life.

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