O.M. It is a mistake. The act must do HIM good, FIRST; otherwise he will not do it. He may THINK he is doing it solely for the other person's sake, but it is not so; he is contenting his own spirit first--the other's person's benefit has to always take SECOND place.

Y.M. What a fantastic idea! What becomes of self- sacrifice? Please answer me that.

O.M. What is self-sacrifice?

Y.M. The doing good to another person where no shadow nor suggestion of benefit to one's self can result from it.

II

Man's Sole Impulse--the Securing of His Own Approval

Old Man. There have been instances of it--you think?

Young Man. INSTANCES? Millions of them!

O.M. You have not jumped to conclusions? You have examined them--critically?

Y.M. They don't need it: the acts themselves reveal the golden impulse back of them.

O.M. For instance?

Y.M. Well, then, for instance. Take the case in the book here. The man lives three miles up-town. It is bitter cold, snowing hard, midnight. He is about to enter the horse-car when a gray and ragged old woman, a touching picture of misery, puts out her lean hand and begs for rescue from hunger and death. The man finds that he has a quarter in his pocket, but he does not hesitate: he gives it her and trudges home through the storm. There--it is noble, it is beautiful; its grace is marred by no fleck or blemish or suggestion of self-interest.

O.M. What makes you think that?

Y.M. Pray what else could I think? Do you imagine that there is some other way of looking at it?

O.M. Can you put yourself in the man's place and tell me what he felt and what he thought?

Y.M. Easily. The sight of that suffering old face pierced his generous heart with a sharp pain. He could not bear it. He could endure the three-mile walk in the storm, but he could not endure the tortures his conscience would suffer if he turned his back and left that poor old creature to perish. He would not have been able to sleep, for thinking of it.

O.M. What was his state of mind on his way home?

Y.M. It was a state of joy which only the self-sacrificer knows. His heart sang, he was unconscious of the storm.

O.M. He felt well?

Y.M. One cannot doubt it.

O.M. Very well. Now let us add up the details and see how much he got for his twenty-five cents. Let us try to find out the REAL why of his making the investment. In the first place HE couldn't bear the pain which the old suffering face gave him. So he was thinking of HIS pain--this good man. He must buy a salve for it. If he did not succor the old woman HIS conscience would torture him all the way home. Thinking of HIS pain again. He must buy relief for that. If he didn't relieve the old woman HE would not get any sleep. He must buy some sleep--still thinking of HIMSELF, you see. Thus, to sum up, he bought himself free of a sharp pain in his heart, he bought himself free of the tortures of a waiting conscience, he bought a whole night's sleep--all for twenty-five cents! It should make Wall Street ashamed of itself. On his way home his heart was joyful, and it sang--profit on top of profit! The impulse which moved the man to succor the old woman was--FIRST--to CONTENT HIS OWN SPIRIT; secondly to relieve HER sufferings. Is it your opinion that men's acts proceed from one central and unchanging and inalterable impulse, or from a variety of impulses?

Y.M. From a variety, of course--some high and fine and noble, others not. What is your opinion?

O.M. Then there is but ONE law, one source.

Y.M. That both the noblest impulses and the basest proceed from that one source?

O.M. Yes.

Y.M. Will you put that law into words?

O.M. Yes. This is the law, keep it in your mind. FROM HIS CRADLE TO HIS GRAVE A MAN NEVER DOES A SINGLE THING WHICH HAS ANY FIRST AND FOREMOST OBJECT BUT ONE--TO SECURE PEACE OF MIND, SPIRITUAL COMFORT, FOR HIMSELF.

Y.M. Come! He never does anything for any one else's comfort, spiritual or physical?

O.M.

What is Man? and Other Essays of Mark Twain Page 06

Mark Twain

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book