LOVE’S LORDS IN WAITING: BENEVOLENCE
“Reform the World, or bear with it.”—It is usual to speak as if Benevolence meant nothing more than the giving of money or other help to persons in distress; but it is possible to give a great deal of such help without being benevolent, and to be benevolent without giving much material help. To be benevolent is to have goodwill towards all men. The wise emperor, Marcus Aurelius, described the lowest form of Benevolence when he said, “Men are born to be serviceable to one another; therefore either reform the world, or bear with it!” The very least we can do for the world is to bear with it; the world, in this case, being the people in it who are, for any reason, disagreeable to us. But Benevolence makes us able, not only to bear with the people who annoy us and irritate us, but to give them sincere and hearty liking. Perhaps there is nobody whom we should not be able to love if we really knew him, because all persons are born with the beautiful qualities of mind and heart we have spoken of, in a greater or less degree; and though the beauty of a person’s nature may be like a gem buried under a dust-heap, it is always possible to remove the dust and recover the gem. A debased criminal has, possibly, a wife who loves him—not
because she loves his baseness, but because she sees the possibilities of beauty in him.
His Faults are not the Whole of a Person.—The benevolent perceive that obvious and unpleasant faults are no more compared with the whole human being than his spots are compared with the sun; so they have no difficulty in bearing with faults, or, what is better, trying to correct them; and at the same time giving just the same hearty liking or love to the person as if those faults were not present. This is the sort of Benevolence that parents show to their children, that brothers and sisters show to one another, that is due from friend to friend, from neighbour to neighbour, and, in a gradually widening circle, to all the people we come in contact with, or whose works and ways are brought before us. Benevolence does not use strong language about the joiner when he comes across a door what will not shut or a window that will not open. He knows that the joiner is at bottom a fine fellow, who has probably not been put in the way of making the best of himself, and so is content with slipshod work. Therefore the gaping door and immovable window stir Benevolence up to bring better thoughts before people generally, so that other joiners may turn out better work.
The Affairs of Goodwill.—You will observe that Benevolence is by no means a lazy Lord of the Bosom. He can put up with things done amiss, and with manners that displease him, but he cannot possibly let the people alone who behave amiss. He likes them too well to endure that they should spoil themselves by this or the other failing. He cannot endure either that people should grow up in ignorance, or that there should be sickness or suffering or friendlessness in
the world; therefore his hands and heart are always busy with some labour of help.
Benevolence thus has many functions, but wherever his countenance turns he presents the same aspect. Benevolence is always gracious, simple, pleasant and accessible, because he so heartily likes all men and women, boys and girls. He is indefatigable too, because, with so many friends who have so many needs, there is much for him to do; but all that he does gives him pleasure, so it is easy for him to smile as he goes.
The Foes of Goodwill.—What a blessed world we should have if the spring of Benevolence had free play in every human heart! But a whole troop of dæmons obstruct every movement of this beneficent Lord. There is Fastidiousness, which finds offence in all ways which are not exactly our own ways. There is Exigeance, on the watch to resent slight or trespass, however small or unintentional. Censoriousness is at hand to blame without thought of improving. Selfishness is ready to occupy the whole field of the heart, so that no corner of space is left for all those concerns of other people with which Benevolence is engaged. Slothfulness is there to simulate Goodwill with that easy Good-nature which takes matters pleasantly so long as it is not required to take trouble about anything. Tolerance is that form of Good-nature which is as easy with regard to other people’s opinions as Good-nature is with regard to their actions. To tolerate, or bear with, the principles and opinions which rule the lives of others is the part of Indifference and not of Good-will. Candour, fair-mindedness to other people’s thoughts, is what Benevolence offers.
The Peace of Good-will.—Benevolence has so many functions that we can only notice a few of them; but it is well we should know that it means at least an active and general Goodwill. When we realise this, the angelic message—“Peace on earth and Goodwill towards men of Goodwill”—will carry some meaning for us.