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happy birthday, leo

August 28, 2009

I thought I’d share this passage from Leo Tolstoy’s letter, “To the Working People,” today — his birthday according to the Julian calendar — because I find it intriguing and worth reflecting upon:

People fare badly only because they themselves live badly. And there is no more injurious thought for people than that the causes of the wretchedness of their position is not in themselves, but in external conditions. A man or a society of men need but imagine that the evil experienced by them is due to external conditions and to direct their attention and efforts to the change of these external conditions, and the evil will be increased. But a man or a society of men need but sincerely direct their attention to themselves, and in themselves and their lives look for the causes of that evil from which they suffer, in order that these causes may be at once found and destroyed.

I don’t know what it is about Russian writers like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, but I find their works a never-ending source of insight.

This passage, for example, is often paraphrased as:

Everyone thinks to change the world, but nobody thinks to change themselves.

And, while I think that external conditions can affect us as much as internal ones, what I think Tolstoy is saying here is that, subjectively speaking, it all comes down to what we do with those experiences and how we relate to them.


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