While Emerson believes in the efficacy of helping one’s fellow man, he loathes the societal pressure to give to good causes that are too distant, or serve only to build ego. Think of all those people who post their “thoughts and prayers” on social media after a disaster because they...
While Emerson believes in the efficacy of helping one’s fellow man, he loathes the societal pressure to give to good causes that are too distant, or serve only to build ego. Think of all those people who post their “thoughts and prayers” on social media after a disaster because they worry they’ll be insensitive if they don’t, but after a week, are no longer thoughtful, praying, or outraged, and have moved on to a more trendy cause. When one is not connected to those they are giving to, this is the likely result. Emerson sees a true man (a non-conformist) as one who is able to distinguish those causes that truly affect him, are close to him, and are likely to make a real impact in the world he actually lives in. He uses the abolition of slavery (a prime cause in his day) as an example of one such event that might attract those individuals who give only to jump on the bandwagon:
If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass? If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of Abolition, and comes to me with his last news from Barbadoes, why should I not say to him, 'Go love thy infant; love thy wood-chopper; be good-natured and modest; have that grace; and never varnish your hard, uncharitable ambition with this incredible tenderness for black folk a thousand miles off. Thy love afar is spite at home.'"
Though Emerson would doubtless injure the pride of the individual he spoke to in this way, he admits that though “Rough and graceless would be such greeting . . . truth is handsomer than the affectation of love.”
In short, Emerson appreciates philanthropy, but only when it’s a cause that’s immediate to one’s life and where one can see the effects of their giving in their own community. Help your own home thrive before you try to fix those of individuals you will never meet.