Human Nature and the Social Order

Chapter 4: Sympathy or Understanding as an Aspect of Society

Charles Horton Cooley

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THE growth of personal ideas through intercourse, described in the preceding chapter, implies a growing power of sympathy, of entering into and sharing the minds of other persons. To converse with another, through words, looks, or other symbols, means to have more or less understanding or communion with him, to get OD common ground and partake of his ideas and sentiments. If one uses sympathy in this connection—and it is perhaps the most available word—one has to bear in mind that it denotes the sharing of any mental state that can be communicated, and has not the special implication of pity or other "tender emotion" that it very commonly carries in ordinary speech. [1] This emotionally colorless usage

(137)is, however, perfectly legitimate, and is, I think, more common in classical English literature than any other. Thus Shakespeare, who uses sympathy five times, if we may trust the Shakespeare Phrase Book, never means by it the particular emotion of compassion, but either the sharing of a mental state, as when he speaks of "sympathy in choice," or mere resemblance, as when Iago mentions the lack of " sympathy in years, manners, and beauties" between Othello and

(138) Desdemona. This latter sense is also one which must be excluded in our use of the word, since what is here meant is an active process of mental assimilation, not mere likeness.

In this chapter sympathy, in the sense of understanding or personal insight, will be considered chiefly with a view to showing something of its nature as a phase or member of the general life of mankind.

The content of it, the matter understood, is chiefly thought and sentiment, in distinction from mere sensation or crude emotion. I do not venture to say that these latter cannot be shared, but certainly they play a relatively small part in the communicative life. Thus although to get one's finger pinched is a common experience, it is impossible, to me at least, to recall the sensation when another person has his finger pinched. So when we say that we feel sympathy for a person who has a headache, we mean that we pity him, not that we share the headache. There is little true communication of physical pain, or anything of that simple sort. The reason appears to be that as ideas of this kind are due to mere physical contacts, or other simple stimuli, in the first instance, they are and remain detached and isolated in the mind, so that they are unlikely to be recalled except by some sensation of the sort originally associated with them. If they become objects of thought and conversation, as is likely to be the case when they are agreeable, they are by that very process refined into sentiments. Thus when the pleasures of the table are

(139)discussed the thing communicated is hardly the sensation of taste but something much subtler, although partly based upon that. Thought and sentiment are from the first parts or aspects of highly complex and imaginative personal ideas, and of course may be reached by anything which recalls any part of those ideas. They are aroused by personal intercourse because in their origin they are connected with personal symbols. The sharing of a sentiment! ordinarily comes to pass by our perceiving one of these symbols or traits of expression which has belonged with the sentiment in the past and now brings it back. And likewise with thought: it is communicated by words, and these are freighted with the net result of centuries of intercourse. Both spring from the general life of society and cannot be separated from that life, nor it from them.

It is not to be inferred that we must go through the same visible and tangible experiences as other people before we can sympathize with them. On the contrary, there is only an indirect and uncertain connection between one's sympathies and the obvious events—such as the death of friends, success or failure in business, travels, and the like—that one has gone through. Social experience is a matter of imaginative, not of material, contacts; and there are so many aids to the imagination that little can be judged as to one's experience by the merely external course of his life. An imaginative student of a few people and of books often has many times the range of comprehension that the most varied career can give to

(140) a duller mind; and a man of genius, like Shakespeare, may cover almost the whole range of human sentiment in his time, not by miracle, but by a marvellous vigor and refinement of imagination. The idea that seeing life means going from place to place and doing a great variety of obvious things is an illusion natural to dull minds.

One's range of sympathy is a measure of his personality, indicating how much or how little of a man he is. It is in no way a special faculty, but a function of the whole mind to which every special faculty contributes, so that what a person is and what he can understand or enter into through the life of others are very much the same thing. We often hear people described as sympathetic who have little mental power, but are of a sensitive, impressionable, quickly responsive type of mind. The sympathy of such a mind always has some defect corresponding to its lack of character and of constructive force. A strong, deep understanding of other people implies mental energy and stability; it is a work of persistent, cumulative imagination which may be associated with a comparative slowness of direct sensibility. On the other hand, we often see the union of a quick sensitiveness to immediate impressions with an inability to comprehend what has to be reached by reason or constructive imagination.

Sympathy is a requisite to social power. Only in so far as a man understands other people and thus enters into the life around him has he any effective

(141) existence; the less he has of this the more he is a mere animal, not truly in contact with human life. And if he is not in contact with it he can of course have no power over it,. This is a principle of familiar application, and yet one that is often overlooked, practical men having, perhaps, a better grasp of it than theorists. It is well understood by men of the world that effectiveness depends at least as much upon address, savoir-faire, tact, and the like, involving sympathetic insight into the minds of other people, as upon any more particular faculties. There is nothing more practical than social imagination; to lack it is to lack everything. All classes of persons need it—the mechanic, the farmer, and the tradesman, as well as the lawyer, the clergyman, the railway president, the politician, the philanthropist, and the poet. Every year thousands of young men are preferred to other thousands and given positions of more responsibility largely because they are seen to have a power of personal insight which promises efficiency and growth. Without "caliber," which means chiefly a good imagination, there is no getting on much in the world. The strong men of our society, however much we may disapprove of the particular direction in which their sympathy is sometimes developed or the ends their power is made to serve, are very human men, not at all the abnormal creatures they are sometimes asserted to be. I have met a fair number of such men, and they have generally appeared, each in his own way, to be persons of a certain scope and breadth that marked them off from the majority.


A person of definite character and purpose who comprehends our way of thought is sure to exert power over us. He cannot altogether be resisted; because, if he understands us, he can make us understand him, through the word, the look, or other symbol, which both of us connect with the common sentiment or idea; and thus by communicating an impulse he can move the will. Sympathetic influence enters into our system of thought as a matter of course, and affects our conduct as surely as water affects the growth of a plant. The kindred spirit can turn on a system of lights, to recur to the image of the last chapter, and so transform the mental illumination. This is the nature of all authority and leadership, as I shall try to explain more fully in another chapter.

Again, sympathy, in the broad sense in which it is here used, underlies also the moral rank of a man and goes to fix our estimate of his justice and goodness. The just, the good, or the right under any name is of course not a thing by itself, but is a finer product wrought up out of the various impulses that life affords, and colored by them. Hence no one can think and act in a way that strikes us as right unless he feels, in great part, the same impulses that we do. If he shares the feelings that seem to us to have the best claims, it naturally follows, if he is a person of stable character, that he does them justice in thought and action. To be upright, public-spirited, patriotic, charitable, generous, and just implies that a man has a broad personality which feels the urgency of sympathetic or imaginative motives that in narrower minds


are weak or lacking. He has achieved the higher sentiments, the wider range of personal thought. And so far as we see in his conduct that he feels such motives and that they enter into his decisions, and are likely to call him good. What is it to do good, in the ordinary sense? Is it not to help people to enjoy and to work, to fulfil the healthy and happy tendencies of human nature; to give play to children, education to youth, a career to men, a household to women, and peace to old age ? And it is sympathy that makes a man wish and need to do these things. One who is large enough to live the life of the race will feel the impulses of each class as his own, and do what he can to gratify them as naturally as he eats his dinner. The idea that goodness is something apart from ordinary human nature is pernicious; it is only an ampler expression of that nature.

On the other hand, all badness, injustice, or wrong is, in one of its aspects, a lack of sympathy. If a man's action is injurious to interests which other men value, and so impresses them as wrong, it must be because, at the moment of action, he does not feel those interests as they do. Accordingly the wrong-doer is either a person whose sympathies do not embrace the claims he wrongs, or one who lacks sufficient stability of character to express his sympathies in action. A liar, for instance, is either one who does not feel strongly the dishonor, injustice, and confusion of lying, or one who, feeling them at times, does not retain the feeling in decisive moments. And so a brutal person may be such either in a dull or chronic way, which

(144) does not know the gentler sentiments at any time, or in a sudden and passionate way which perhaps alternates with kindness.

Much the same may be said regarding mental health in general; its presence or absence may always be expressed in terms of sympathy. The test of sanity which every one instinctively applies is that of a certain tact or feeling of the social situation, which we expect of all right-minded people and which flows from sympathetic contact with other minds. One whose words and bearing give the impression that he stands apart and lacks intuition of what others are thinking is judged as more or less absent-minded, queer, dull, or even insane or imbecile, according to the character and permanence of the phenomenon. The essence of insanity, from the social point of view (and, it would seem, the only final test of it) is a confirmed lack of touch with other minds in matters upon which men in general are agreed; and imbecility might be defined as a general failure to compass the more complex sympathies.

A man's sympathies as a whole reflect the social order in which he lives, or rather they are a particular phase of it. Every group of which he is really a member, in which he has any vital share, must live in his sympathy; so that his mind is a microcosm of so much of society as he truly belongs to. Every social phenomenon, we need to remember, is simply a collective view of what we find distributively in particular persons—public opinion is a phase of the judg-

(145)-ments of individuals; traditions and institutions live in the thought of particular men, social standards of right do not exist apart from private consciences, and so On. Accordingly, so far as a man has any vital part in the life of a time or a country, that life is imaged in those personal ideas or sympathies which are the impress of his intercourse.

So, whatever is peculiar to our own time implies a corresponding peculiarity in the sympathetic life of each one of us. Thus the age, at least in the more intellectually active parts of life, is strenuous, characterized by the multiplication of points of personal contact through enlarged and accelerated communication. The mental aspect of this is a more rapid and multitudinous flow of personal images, sentiments, and impulses. Accordingly there prevails among us an animation of thought that tends to lift men above sensuality; and there is also possible a choice of relations that opens to each mind a more varied and congenial development than the past afforded. On the other hand, these advantages are not without their cost; the intensity of life often becomes a strain, bringing to many persons an over-excitation which weakens or breaks down character; as we see in the increase of suicide and insanity, and in many similar phenomena. An effect very generally produced upon all except the strongest minds appears to be a sort of superficiality of imagination, a dissipation and attenuation of impulses, which watches the stream of personal imagery go by like a procession, but lacks the power to organize and direct it.


The different degrees of urgency in personal impressions are reflected in the behavior of different classes of people. Every one must have noticed that he finds more real openness of sympathy in the country than in the city—though perhaps there is more of a superficial readiness in the latter—and often more among plain, hand-working people than among professional and business men. The main reason for this, I take it, is that the social imagination is not so hard worked in the one case as in the other. In the mountains of North Carolina the hospitable inhabitants will take in any stranger and invite him to spend the night; but this is hardly possible upon Broadway; and the case is very much the same with the hospitality of the mind. If one sees few people and hears a new thing only once a week, he accumulates a fund of sociability and curiosity very favorable to eager intercourse; but if he is assailed all day and every day by calls upon feeling and thought in excess of his power to respond, he soon finds that he must put up some sort of a barrier. Sensitive people who live where life is insistent take on a sort of social shell whose function is to deal mechanically with ordinary relations and preserve the interior from destruction. They are likely to acquire a conventional smile and conventional phrases for polite intercourse, and a cold mask for curiosity, hostility, or solicitation. In fact, a vigorous power of resistance to the numerous influences that in no way make for the substantial development of his character, but rather tend to distract and demoralize him, is a primary need of

(147) one who lives in the more active portions of present society, and the loss of this power by strain is in countless instances the beginning of mental and moral decline. There are times of abounding energy when we exclaim with Schiller,

"Seid willkommen, Millionen,
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt !"

but it is hardly possible or desirable to maintain this attitude continuously. Universal sympathy is impracticable; what we need is better control and selection, avoiding both the narrowness of our class and the dissipation of promiscuous impressions. It is well for a man to open out and take in as much of life as he can organize into a consistent whole, but to go beyond that is not desirable. In a time of insistent suggestion, like the present, it is fully as important to many of us to know when and how to restrict the impulses of sympathy as it is to avoid narrowness. And this is in no way inconsistent, I think, with that modern democracy of sentiment—also connected with the enlargement of communication—which deprecates the limitation of sympathy by wealth or position. Sympathy must be selective, but the less it is controlled by conventional and external circumstances, such as wealth, and the more it penetrates to the essentials of character, the better. It is this liberation from convention, locality, and chance, I think, that the spirit of the time calls for.

Again, the life of this age is more diversified than life ever was before, and this appears in the mind of

(148) the person who shares it as a greater variety of interests and affiliations. A man may be regarded as the point of intersection of an indefinite number of circles representing social groups, having as many are passing through him as there are groups. This diversity is connected with the growth of communication, and is another phase of the general enlargement and variegation of life. Because of the greater variety of imaginative contacts it is impossible for a normally open-minded individual not to lead a broader life, in some respects at least, than he would have led in the past. Why is it, for instance, that such ideas as brotherhood and the sentiment of equal right are now so generally extended to all classes of men? Primarily, I think, because all classes have become imaginable, by acquiring power and means of expression. He whom I imagine without antipathy becomes my brother. If we feel that we must give aid to another, it is because that other lives and strives in our imaginations, and so is a part of ourselves. The shallow separation of self and other in common speech obscures the extreme simplicity and naturalness of such feelings. If I come to imagine a person suffering wrong it is not "altruism" that makes me wish to right that wrong, but simple human impulse. He is my life, as really and immediately as anything else. His symbol arouses a sentiment which is no more his than mine.

Thus we lead a wider life; and yet it is also true that there is demanded of us a more distinct special-

(149)-ization than has been required in the past. The complexity of society takes the form of organization, that is, of a growing unity and breadth sustained by the co-operation of differentiated parts, and the man of the age must reflect both the unity and the differentiation; he must be more distinctly a specialist and at the same time more a man of the world.

It seems to many a puzzling question whether, on the whole, the breadth or the specialization is more potent in the action of modern life upon the individual; and by insisting on one aspect or the other it is easy to frame an argument to show either that personal life is becoming richer or that man is getting to be a mere cog in a machine.[2] I think, however, that these two tendencies are not really opposite but complementary; that it is not a case of breadth versus specialization, but, in the long run at least, of breadth plus specialization to produce a richer and more various humanity. There are many evils connected with the sudden growth in our day of new social structures, and the subjection of a part of the people to a narrow and deadening routine is one of them, but I think that a healthy specialization has no tendency to bring this about. On the contrary, it is part of a liberating development. The narrow specialist is a bad specialist; and we shall learn that it is a mistake to produce him.


In an organized life isolation cannot succeed, and a right specialization does not isolate. There is no such separation between special and general knowledge or efficiency as is sometimes supposed. In what does the larger knowledge of particulars consist if not in perceiving their relation to wholes? Has a student less general knowledge because he is familiar with a specialty, or is it not rather true that in so far as he knows one thing well it is a window through which he sees things in general?

There is no way to penetrate the surface of life but by attacking it earnestly at a particular point. If one takes his stand in a field of corn when the young plants have begun to sprout, all the plants in the field will appear to be arranged in a system of rows radiating from his feet; and no matter where he stands the system will appear to centre at that point. It is so with any standpoint in the field of thought and intercourse; to possess it is to have a point of vantage from which the whole may, in a particular manner, be apprehended. It is surely a matter of common observation that a man who knows no one thing intimately has no views worth hearing on things in general. The farmer philosophizes in terms of crops, soils, markets, and implements, the mechanic generalizes his experience of wood and iron, the seaman reaches similar conclusions by his own special road; and if the scholar keeps pace with these it must be by an equally virile productivity. It is a common opinion that breadth of culture is a thing by itself, to be imparted by a particular sort of studies, as, for

(151) instance, the classics, modern languages, and so on. And there is a certain practical truth in this, owing, I think, to the fact that certain studies are taught in a broad or cultural way, while others are not. But the right theory of the matter is that speciality and culture are simply aspects of the same healthy mental growth, and that any study is cultural when taught in the best way. And so the humblest careers in life may involve culture and breadth of view, if the incumbent is trained, as he should be, to feel their larger relations.

A certain sort of writers often assume that it is the tendency of our modern specialized production to stunt the mind of the workman by a meaningless routine; but fair opportunities of observation and some practical acquaintance with machinery and the men who use it lead me to think that this is not the general fact. On the contrary, it is precisely the broad or cultural traits of general intelligence, self-reliance, and adaptability that make a man at home and efficient in the midst of modern machinery, and it is because the American workman has these traits in a comparatively high degree that he surpasses others in the most highly specialized production. One who goes into our shops will find that the intelligent and adaptive workman is almost always preferred and gets higher wages; and if there are large numbers employed upon deadening routine it is partly because there is unfortunately a part of our population whose education makes them unfit for anything else. The type of mechanic which a complex industrial system

(152) requires, and which it is even now, on the whole, evolving, is one that combines an intimate knowledge of particular tools and processes with an intelligent apprehension of the system in which he works. If he lacks the latter he requires constant oversight and so becomes a nuisance. Any one acquainted with such matters knows that "gumption" in workmen is fully as important and much harder to find than mere manual skill; and that those who possess it are usually given superior positions. No doubt there are cases in which intelligence seems to have passed out of the man into the machine, leaving the former a mere "tender"; but I think these are not representative of the change as a whole.[3] And if we pass from tools to personal relations we shall find that the specialized production so much deprecated is only one phase of a wider general life, a life of comparative freedom, intelligence, education, and opportunity, whose general effect is to enlarge the individual.

The idea of a necessary antagonism between specialization and breadth seems to me an illusion of the same class as that which opposes the individual to the social order. First one aspect and then another

(153) is looked at in artificial isolation, and it is not perceived that we are beholding but one thing, after all.

Not only does the sympathetic life of a man reflect and imply the state of society, but we may also discern in it some inkling of those processes, or principles of change, that we see at large in the general movement of mankind. This is a matter rather ne yond the scope of this book; but a few illustrations will show, in a general way, what I mean,

The act of sympathy follows the general law that nature works onward by mixing like and unlike, continuity and change; and so illustrates the same principle that we see in the mingling of heredity with variation, specific resemblance with a differentiation of sexes and of individuals, tradition with discussion, inherited social position with competition, and so on. The likeness in the communicating persons is necessary for comprehension, the difference for interest. We cannot feel strongly toward the totally unlike because it is unimaginable, unrealizable; nor yet toward the wholly like because it is stale—identity must always be dull company. The power of other natures over us lies in a stimulating difference which causes excitement and opens communication, in ideas similar to our own but not identical, in states of mind attainable but not actual. If one has energy he soon wearies of any habitual round of activities and feelings, and his organism, competent to a larger life, suffers pains of excess and want at the same time. The key to the situation is another person who can start a new

(154) circle of activities and give the faculties concerned with the old a chance to rest. As Emerson has remarked, we come into society to be played upon. "Friendship," he says again, "requires that rare mean betwixt likeness and unlikeness, that piques each with the presence of power and of consent in the other party.... Let him not cease an instant to be himself. The only joy I have in his being mine is that the not mine is mine.... There must be very two before there can be very one." [4] So Goethe, speaking of Spinoza's attraction for him, remarks that the closest unions rest on contrast; [5] and it is well known that such a contrast was the basis of his union with Schiller, " whose character and life," he says, "were in complete contrast to my own." [6] Of course, some sorts of sympathy are especially active in their tendency, like the sympathy of vigorous boys with soldiers and sea-captains; while others are comparatively quiet, like those of old people renewing common memories. It is vivid and elastic where the tendency to growth is strong, reaching out toward the new, the onward, the mysterious; while old persons, the undervitalized and the relaxed or wearied prefer a mild sociability, a comfortable companionship in habit; but even with the latter there must always be a stimulus given, something new suggested or something forgotten recalled, not merely a resemblance of thought but a "resembling difference "

(155) And sympathy between man and woman, while it is very much complicated with the special instinct of sex, draws its life from this same mixture of mental likeness and difference. The love of the sexes is above all a need, a need of new life which only the other can unlock.

"Ich musst' ihn lieben, well mit ihm mein Leben
Zum Leben ward, wie ich es nie gekannt," [7]

says the princess in Tasso; and this appears to express a general principle. Each sex represents to the other a wide range of fresh and vital experience inaccessible alone. Thus the woman usually stands for a richer and more open emotional life, the man for a stronger mental grasp, for control and synthesis. Alfred without Laura feels dull, narrow, and coarse, while Laura on her part feels selfish and hysterical.

Again, sympathy is selective, and thus illustrates a phase of the vital process more talked about at present than any other. To go out into the life of other people takes energy, as every one may see in his own experience; and since energy is limited and requires some special stimulus to evoke it, sympathy becomes active only when our imaginations are reaching out after something we admire or love, or in some way feel the need to understand and make our own. A healthy mind, at least, does not spend much energy on things that do not, in some way, contribute to its de-

(156)-velopment: ideas and persons that lie wholly aside from the direction of its growth, or from which it has absorbed all they have to give, necessarily lack interest for it and so fail to awaken sympathy. An incontinent response to every suggestion offered indicates the breaking down of that power of inhibition or refusal that is our natural defense against the reception of material we cannot digest, and looks toward weakness, instability, and mental decay. So with persons from whom we have nothing to gain, in any sense, whom we do not admire, or love, or fear, or hate, and who do not even interest us as psychological prow lems or objects of charity, we can have no sympathy except of the most superficial and fleeting sort. I do not overlook the fact that a large class of people suffer a loss of human breadth and power by falling into a narrow and exclusive habit of mind; but at the same time personality is nothing unless it has character, individuality, a distinctive line of growth, and to have this is to have a principle of rejection as well as reception in sympathy.

Social development as a whole, and every act of sympathy as a part of that development, is guided and stimulated in its selective growth by feeling. The outgoing of the mind into the thought of another is always, it would seem, an excursion in search of the congenial; not necessarily of the pleasant, in the ordinary sense, but of that which is fitting or congruous with our actual state of feeling. Thus we would not call Carlyle or the Book of Job pleasant exactly, yet we have moods in which these writers, however lacking in amenity, seem harmonious and attractive.

(157) In fact, our mental life, individual and collective, is truly a never finished work of art, in the sense that we are ever striving, with such energy and materials as we possess, to make of it a harmonious and congenial whole. Each man does this in his own peculiar way, and men in the aggregate do it for human nature at large, each individual contributing to the general endeavor. There is a tendency to judge every new infiuence, as the painter judges every fresh stroke of his brush, by its relation to the whole achieved or in contemplation, and to call it good or ill according to whether it does or does not make for a congruous development. We do this for the most part instinctively, that is, without deliberate reasoning; something of the whole past, hereditary and social, lives in our present state of mind, and welcomes or rejects the suggestions of the moment. There is always some profound reason for the eagerness that certain influences arouse in us, through which they tap our energy and draw us in their direction, so that we cling to and augment them, growing more and more in their sense. Thus if one likes a book, so that he feels himself inclined to take it down from time to time and linger in the companionship of the author, he may be sure he is getting something that he needs, though it may be long before he discovers what it is. It is quite evident that there must be, in every phase of mental life, an aesthetic impulse to preside over selection.

In common thought and speech sympathy and love are closely connected; and in fact, as most frequently

(158) used, they mean somewhat the same thing, the sympathy ordinarily understood being an affectionate sympathy, and the love a sympathetic affection. I have already suggested that sympathy is not dependent upon any particular emotion, but may, for instance, be hostile as well as friendly; and it might also be shown that affection, though it stimulates sympathy and so usually goes with it, is not inseparable from it, but may exist in the absence of the mental development which true sympathy requires. Whoever has visited an institution for the care of idiots and imbeciles must have been struck by the exuberance with which the milk of human kindness seems to flow from the hearts of these creatures. If kept quiet and otherwise properly cared for they are mostly as amiable as could be wished, fully as much so, apparently, as persons of normal development; while at the same time they offer little or no resistance to other impulses, such as rage and fear, that sometimes possess them. Kindliness seems to exist primarily as an animal instinct, so deeply rooted that mental degeneracy, which works from the top down, does not destroy it until the mind sinks to the lower grades of idiocy.

However, the excitant of love, in all its finer aspects, is a felt possibility of communication, a dawning of sympathetic renewal. We grow by influence, and where we feel the presence of an influence that is enlarging or uplifting, we begin to love. Love is the normal and usual accompaniment of the healthy expansion of human nature by communion; and in turn

(159) is the stimulus to more communion. It seems not to be a special emotion in quite the same way that anger, grief, fear, and the like are, but something more primary and general, the stream, perhaps, of which these and many other sentiments are special channels or eddies.

Love and sympathy, then, are two things which, though distinguishable, are very commonly found together, each being an instigator of the other; what we love we sympathize with, so far as our mental development permits. To be sure, it is also true that when we hate a person, with an intimate, imaginative, human hatred, we enter into his mind, or sympathize— any strong interest will arouse the imagination and create some sort of sympathy—but affection is a more usual stimulus.

Love, in this sense of kindly sympathy, may have all degrees of emotional intensity and of sympathetic penetration, from a sort of passive good-nature, not involving imagination or mental activity of any sort, up to an all-containing human enthusiasm, involving the fullest action of the highest faculties, and bringing with it so strong a conviction of complete good that the best minds have felt and taught that God is love. Thus understood, it is not any specific sort of emotion, at least not that alone, but a general outfiowing of the mind and heart, accompanied by that gladness that the fullest life carries with it. When the apostle John says that God is love, and that every one that loveth knoweth God, he evidently means something more than personal affection, something

(160) that knows as well as feels, that takes account of all special aspects of life and is just to all.

Ordinary personal affection does not fill our ideal of right or justice, but encroaches, like all special impulses. It is not at all uncommon to wrong one person out of affection for another. If, for instance, I am able to procure a desirable position for a friend, it may well happen that there is another and a fitter man, whom I do not know or do not care for, from whose point of view my action is an injurious abuse of power. It is evident that good can be identified with no simple emotion, but must be sought in some wider phase of life that embraces all points of view. So far as love approaches this comprehensiveness it tends toward justice, because the claims of all live and are adjusted in the mind of him who has it

"Love's hearts are faithful but not fond,
Bound for the just but not beyond."

Thus love of a large and symmetrical sort, not merely a narrow tenderness, implies justice and right, since a mind that has the breadth and insight to feel this will be sure to work out magnanimous principles of conduct.

It is in some such sense as this, as an expansion of human nature into a wider life, that I can best understand the use of the word love in the writings of certain great teachers, for instance in such passages as the following:

"What is Love, and why is it the chief good, but because it is an overpowering enthusiasm? . . . He who is in love

(161) is wise and is becoming wiser, sees newly every time he looks at the object beloved, drawing from it with his eyes and his mind those virtues which it possesses." [8]

"A great thing is love, ever a great good which alone makes light all the heavy and bears equally every inequality. For its burden is not a burden, and it makes every bitter sweet and savory.... Love would be arisen, not held down by anything base. Love would be free, and alienated from every worldly affection, that its intimate desire may not be hindered, that it may not become entangled through any temporal good fortune, nor fall through any ill. There is nothing sweeter than love, nothing braver, nothing higher, nothing broader, nothing joyfuller, nothing fuller or better in heaven or on earth, since love is born of God, nor can rest save in God above all created things.

"He that loves, flies, runs, and is joyful; is free and not restrained. He gives all for all and has all in all, since he is at rest above all in the one highest good from which every good flows and proceeds. He regards not gifts, but beyond all good things turns to the giver. Love oft knows not the manner, but its heat is more than every manner. Love feels no burden, regards not labors, strives toward more than it attains, argues not of impossibility, since it believes that it may and can all things. Therefore it avails for all things, and fulfils and accomplishes much where one not a lover falls and lies helpless." [9]

The sense of joy, of freshness, of youth, and of the indifference of circumstances, that comes with love, seems to be connected with its receptive, outgoing nature. It is the fullest life, and when we have it we feel happy because our faculties are richly em-

(162) ployed; young because reception is the essence of youth, and indifferent to conditions because we feel by our present experience that welfare is independent of them. It is when we have lost our hold upon this sort of happiness that we begin to be anxious about security and comfort, and to take a distrustful and pessimistic attitude toward the world in general.

In the literature of the feelings we often find that love and self are set over against each other, as by Tennyson when he says:

"Love took up the harp of life and smote on all the chords with might;
Smote the chord of self, that, trembling, passed in music out of sight."

Let us consider for a moment whether, or m what sense, this antithesis is a just one.

As regards its relation to self we may, perhaps, distinguish two kinds of love, one of which is mingled with self-feeling and the other is not. The latter is a disinterested, contemplative joy, in feeling which the mind loses all sense of its private existence; while the former is active, purposeful, and appropriative, rejoicing in its object with a sense of being one with it as against the rest of the world.

In so far as one feels the disinterested love, that which has no designs with reference to its object, he has no sense of "I" at all, but simply exists in something to which he feels no bounds. Of this sort, for instance, seem to be the delight in natural beauty, in the landscape and the shining sea, the joy and rest of

(163) art—so long as we have no thought of production or criticism—and the admiration of persons regarding whom we have no intentions, either of influence or imitation. It appears to be tho final perfection of this unspecialized joy that the Buddhist sages seek in Nirvana. Love of this sort obliterates that idea of separate personality whose life is always unsure and often painful. One who feels it leaves the precarious self; his boat glides out upon a wider stream; he forgets his own deformity, weakness, shame, or failure, or if he thinks of them it is to feel free of them, released from their coil. No matter what you and I may be, if we can comprehend that which is fair and great we may still have it, may transcend ourselves and go out into it. It carries us beyond the sense of all individuality, either our own or others', into the feeling of universal and joyous life. The "I," the specialized self, and the passions involved with it, have a great and necessary part to play, but they afford no continuing city; they are so evidently transient and insecure that the idealizing mind cannot rest in them, and is glad to forget them at times and to go out into a life joyous and without bounds in which thought may be at peace.

But love that plans and strives is always in some degree self-love. That is, self-feeling is correlated with individualized, purposeful thought and action, and so begins to spring up as soon as love lingers upon something, forms intentions, and begins to act. The love of a mother for her child is appropriative, as is apparent from the fact that it is capable of jealousy.

(164) Its characteristic is not selflessness, by any means, but the association of self-feeling with the idea of her child. It is no more selfless in its nature than the ambitious of a man, and may or may not be morally superior; the idea that it involves self-abnegation seems to spring from the crudely material notion of personality which assumes that other persons are external to the self. And so of all productive, specialized love. I shall say more of the self in the next chapter, but my belief is that it is impossible to cherish and strive for special purposes without having selffeeling about them; without becoming more or less capable of resentment, pride, and fear regarding them. The imaginative and sympathetic aims that are commonly spoken of as self-renunciation are more properly an enlargement of the self, and by no means destroy, though they may transform, the " I. " A wholly selfless love is mere contemplation, an escape from conscious speciality, and a dwelling in undifferentiated life. It sees all things as one and makes no effort.

These two sorts of love are properly complementary, one corresponding to production and giving each of us a specialized intensity and effectiveness, while in the other we find enlargement and relief. They are indeed closely bound together and each contributory to the other. The self and the special love that goes with it seem to grow by a sort of crystallization about them of elements from the wider life. The man first loves the woman as something transcendent, divine, or universal, which he dares not think of appropriating; but presently he begins to claim her as his in antithesis to the rest of the world, and to have

(165) hopes, fears, and resentments regarding her; the painter loves beauty contemplatively, and then tries to paint it; the poet delights in his visions, and then tries to tell them, and so on. It is necessary to our growth that we should be capable of delighting in that upon which we have no designs, because we draw our fresh materials from this region. The sort of self-love that is harmful is one that has hardened about a particular object and ceased to expand. On the other hand, it seems that the power to enter into universal life depends upon a healthy development of the special self. "Willst du in's Unendliche schreiten," said Goethe, " geh nur im Endlichen nach alien Seiten." That which we have achieved by special, selfful endeavor becomes a basis of inference and sympathy, which gives a wider reach to our disinterested contemplation. While the artist is trying to paint he forfeits the pure joy of contemplation; he is strenuous, anxious, vain, or mortified; but when he ceases trying he will be capable, just because of this experience, of a fuller appreciation of beauty in general than he was before. And so of personal affection; the winning of wife, home, and children involves constant self-assertion, but it multiplies the power of sympathy. We cannot, then, exalt one of these over the other; what would seem desirable is that the self, without losing its special purpose and vigor, should keep expanding, so that it should tend to include more and more of what is largest and highest in the general life.

It appears, then, that sympathy, in the sense of mental sharing or communication, is by no means a

(166) simple matter, but that so much enters into it as to suggest that by the time we thoroughly understood one sympathetic experience we should be in a way to understand the social order itself. An act of communication is a particular aspect of the whole which we call society, and necessarily reflects that of which it is a characteristic part. To come into touch with a friend, a leader, an antagonist, or a book, is an act of sympathy; but it is precisely in the totality of such acts that society consists. Even the most complex and rigid institutions may be looked upon as consisting of innumerable personal influences or acts of sympathy, organized, in the case of institutions, into a definite and continuing whole by means of some system of permanent symbols, such as laws, constitutions, sacred writings, and the like, in which personal influences are preserved. And, turning the matter around, we may look upon every act of sympathy as a particular expression of the history, institutions, and tendencies of the society in which it takes place. Every influence which you or I can receive or impart will be characteristic of the race, the country, the epoch, in which our personalities have grown up.

The main thing here is to bring out the vital unity of every phase of personal life, from the simplest interchange of a friendly word to the polity of nations or of hierarchies. The common idea of the matter is crudely mechanical—that there are persons as there are bricks, and societies as there are walls. A person, or some trait of personality or of intercourse, is held to be the element of society, and the latter is

(167) formed by the aggregation of these elements. Now there is no such thing as an element of society in the sense that a brick is the element of a wall; this is a mechanical conception quite inapplicable to vital phenomena. I should say that living wholes have aspects but not elements.

In the Capitoline Museum at Rome is a famous statue of Venus, which, like many works of this kind, is ingeniously mounted upon a pivot, so that one who wishes to study it can place it at any angle with reference to the light that he may prefer. Thus he may get an indefinite number of views, but in every view what he really observes, so far as he observes intelligently, is the whole statue in a particular aspect. Even if he fixes his attention upon the foot, or the great toe, he sees this part, if he sees it rightly, in relation to the work as a whole. And it seems to me that the study of human life is analogous in character. It is expedient to divide it into manageable parts in some way; but this division can only be a matter of aspects, not of elements. The various chapters of this book, for instance, do not deal with separable subjects, but merely with phases of a common subject, and the same is true of any work in psychology, history, or biology.


  1. Sympathy in the sense of compassion is a specific emotion or sentiment, and has nothing necessarily in common with sympathy in the sense of communion. It might be thought, perhaps, that compassion was one form of the sharing of feeling; but this apt pears not to be the case. The sharing of painful feeling may precede and cause compassion, but is not the same with it .
    When I feel sorry for a man in disgrace, it is, no doubt, in most cases, because I have imaginatively partaken of his humiliation; but my compassion for him is not the thing that is shared, but is something additional, a comment on the shared feeling. I may imagine how a suffering man feels—sympathize with him in that sense—and be moved not to pity but to disgust, contempt or perhaps admiration. Our feeling makes all Sorts of Comments on the imagined feeling of others. Moreover it is not essential that there should be any real understanding in order that compassion may he felt. One may compassionate a worm squirming on a hook, or a fish, or even a tree. As between persons pity, while often a helpful and healing emotion, leading to kindly acts, is sometimes indicative of the absence of true sympathy. We all wish to be understood, at least in what we regard as our better aspects, but few of us wish to be pitied except in moments of weakness and discouragement. To accept pity is to confess that one falls below the healthy standard of vigor and self-help. While a real understanding of our deeper thought is rare and precious, pity is usually cheap, many people finding an easy pleasure in indulging it, as one may in the indulgence of grief, resentment, or almost any emotion. It is often felt by the person who is its object as a sort of an insult, a hack-handed thrust at self-respect, the unkindest Cut of all. For instance, as between richer and poorer classes in a free Country a mutually respecting antagonism is much healthier than pity on the one hand and dependence on the other, and is, perhaps, the next best thing to fraternal feeling.
  2. Much of what is ordinarily said in this connection indicates a confusion of the two ideas of specialization and isolation. These are not only different but, in what they imply, quite opposite and inconsistent. Speciality implies a whole to which the special part has a peculiar relation, while isolation implies that there is no whole.
  3. It may well be thought that the vast development, since this passage was written, of the automatic tool and of the mechanized labor that goes with it, corroborates the views I opposed. I can only say that I believe that the question of the effect of mechanical development upon the worker is still undetermined, that some of the factors now at work—such as the supply of low-grade immigrant labor—are probably transitory, and that it is unlikely that, in the long run, human intelligence can be superfluous.
  4. See his Essay on Friendship.
  5. Lewes's Life of Goethe, vol. i, p. 282.
  6. Goethe, Biographische Einzeiheiten, Jacobi.
  7. "I had to love him, for with him my life grew to such life as I had never known."—Act 3, sc. 2.
  8. Emerson, Address on The Method of Nature.
  9. De Imitatione Christi, part iii, chap. 5, pars. 3 and 4. Dante, in the Divina Commedia, means by love (amore), creative passion in all its forms.

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