Leo Tolstoy, in War and Peace, Book Four, Part 1, Chapter 4, describes the Zen-like way in which the world situation is helped only by those people who don't try to do so:

We who were not living in those days, when half of Russia had been conquered, and the inhabitants of Moscow were fleeing to distant provinces, and one levy after another was being raised for the defense of the fatherland, tend to imagine that all Russians, from the least to the greatest, were engaged solely in sacrificing themselves, in saving the fatherland, or in weeping over its ruin. All the stories and descriptions of that time without exception speak only of the patriotism, self-sacrifice, despair, grief, and heroism of the Russians. But in reality it was not like that. It appears so to us because we see only the general historic issues of the period and do not see all the personal, human interests of the people of the day. And yet actually those personal interests of the moment are always so much more significant than the general issues that because of them the latter are never felt—not even noticed, in fact. The majority of the people paid no attention to the general course of events but were influenced only by their immediate personal interests. And it was just these people whose activities were of the greatest service at the time. Those who endeavored to understand the general course of events, and hoped by self-sacrifice and heroism to take part in it, were the most useless members of society; they saw everything upside down, and all they did for the common good turned out to be futile and absurd, like Pierre's and Mamonov's regiments, which looted Russian villages, or the lint prepared by young ladies, which never reached the wounded, and so on. Even those who were fond of philosophizing and expressing their feelings, when they discussed Russia's position at the time inevitably introduced into their conversations a degree either of hypocrisy and falseness or of invalid condemnation and animosity toward persons accused of what could be no one's fault. The law forbidding us to taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge is particularly manifested in historical events. Only unconscious action bears fruit, and a man who plays a part in an historical event never understands its significance. If he tries to understand it he becomes ineffectual.

(from the Ann Dunnigan translation, 1968; cf. TruthInBattle (11 Feb 2001), YouAreExtraordinary (7 Jul 2002), OozeOnVerst (22 Sep 2004), UntutoredVoice (3 Nov 2004), BodyMnemonic (4 Dec 2004), PerfectCommunication (14 Feb 2005), LadderOfLife (10 Apr 2005), BeaconOfHope (17 Apr 2005), ModernMedicine (20050429), NationalCharacters (16 May 2005), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicLife - 2005-06-08

(correlates: SeeingStars0, WarAndCheckers, GlobeOfLife, ...)