Small gestures that save the world


Photo by Andrei.


I read once that people have done experiments with flowers. They researched how flowers respond to love. Apparently, when the plants “hear” nice words and probably good vibrations, they develop more fully and more beautifully than when they are not given attention. But one does not need to consider flowers. It is sufficient to look at children. Surround them with conflicts, and they will often grow with insecurities. They will not trust those around them, and they may often not trust themselves. Or pressure them to achieve success, give them the impression that their worth depends on their professional achievements, and they may often be unable to genuinely relate to themselves or to other human beings.

Love them, and somehow they will be well. In love, they experience something: they discover themselves in relationship with others and see how their worth is not in achieving something for themselves, but it rather flows continually from the relationships they have.

I think there is a sense of freedom that surrounds people who have been loved. They have already “achieved” what is “priceless”: a freely given love which they have experienced without having done anything to deserve it. It’s not that they no longer work. They do, but they do it in freedom, in manifesting what they already are: co-creators of their world. But they are not the masters of this world. While responsible for it, the world does not begin and end with them. They know love already precedes them. And, to the best of their abilities, they give way to it, so they allow it to manifest in them as well.

What am I then doing when I do not love? I contribute to the taste of this bitter world, giving me the “opportunity” to feel superior when I complain about it. And doing so I lose me. I become the mighty judge, in his ivory tower, looking upon the world and being dissatisfied with it. I am utterly alone, for there is no connection that deserves me. I am deprived of love by my own doing. I contemplate the beauty of my world, the beautiful ivory tower that is adorned with my perceived virtues: one would rightly call this place hell. For my “virtues” that “stink before the Lord,” as the main character from the movie The Island says, blind me from the fact that everything good that is manifested in me precedes me and it cannot be achieved by me. There is no love when there is only one. One in one’s ivory tower has already separated oneself from the world, and so from life.

So “love your children,” I would say, but I know that forced love is not love. “Give yourself up,” I would say, but I know that imposing dogmas on another or oneself ends up in transforming our world in ivory towers. But still, even if a nice gesture may not come from me naturally, I would hope I would still do it. The memory of a small candy given to a child without any accompanying lesson may stop him or her from who knows what terrible act in the future. Dostoevsky is a master in portraying this: the small gestures one receives in one’s life, gestures that stem from love and which remain with one as a beacon of light in darkness.

I have mentioned this paragraph in the past, but I feel as I need to do it here as well. It comes from the ending of the Brothers Karamazov:

No matter how wicked we become–which, God grant, we may never be–when we recall how we buried Ilyusha, how we loved him in these last days, and we talked together by this stone with such closeness and affection, then even the cruelest and most cynical among us–if such there be–will not dare to mock the kindness and goodness of this moment! Moreover, that memory alone, perhaps, will restrain that person from some great wickedness, and he will think about it and will say, ‘Yes, I was good then, I was brave and honorable.’ He may still ridicule it inwardly–that doesn’t matter, people often make fun of what is kind and good; that’s only frivolity–but I assure you, boys, that even as he mocks he will immediately say in his heart, ‘No, I was wrong to mock, because one should not make fun of that!'”

The small gestures that save the world.


About Tavi's Corner

Blogging on ancient philosophy, communist persecution in Romania (including deportation to Siberia), and Orthodox Christianity. I've translated books from Romanian to English, and I also write about them from time to time.
This entry was posted in Dostoevsky, Orthodoxy, Philosophy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Small gestures that save the world

  1. When I read “…everything good that is manifested in me precedes me and it cannot be achieved by me,” it reminded me of the Scripture I had not thought of for a long time, Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

    What you say is so true, and when I think back through my own memories, how many of them relate to some small thing that someone said or did to me? My own daughter-in-law just told me recently about the big impression – of love and respect – made on her by the manner in which I said good-bye to her after she visited my house, when she was about four years old; an event I have no recollection of, but it went straight to her heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Therefore I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary…” I sometimes think about that, just as there may have been moments like the one you describe in my life, there may also have been moments in which the memory I have occasioned was not a good one. It is in this sense, I think, that we need healing (forgiveness).

      Dostoevsky is a master, really. In the story with the onion, the woman had thrown an onion at someone (probably not with good intentions), but that gesture could have saved her because of the goodness that may have come out of it. Still, she’s not able to see it.

      Liked by 1 person

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