I am reading a lovely book by my friend Debbie Tenzer, called DO ONE NICE THING. If you've ever felt overwhelmed by all the suffering in the world and felt powerless to do anything about it, this book will help change all that.
Because there is something you can do. Even if you're as
busy as most people are in this crazy multi-tasking overly scheduled world.
Even if you don't have deep pockets.
From grocery shopping for a sick friend to organizing donations of canned goods to a local food bank to making a $25 micro-loan that changes a life in a remote part of the planet, there are dozens of accessible Nice Things that you can do in this book.
So what does all this have to do with Jane Austen? Aside from the fact that in my world, everything has something to do with Jane Austen?
A lot, actually.
Jane Austen had plenty to say about everyday acts of kindness towards our fellow humans. Ladies of Austen's class were expected to care for the poor and relieve their sufferings through gifts of food, money, and clothes, and through personal visits to needy families in the parish.
But that didn't mean one had to be a saint then--or today--in order to Do One Nice Thing. Nor did one have to be a saint in Jane Austen's day. Consider the vain, deluded, matchmaking-obsessed heroine of EMMA. Helping those in need is one of the qualities that make her loveable in spite of her flaws:
Emma was very compassionate; and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse.
Even the relatively impoverished, disabled Mrs. Smith in PERSUASION was making thread-cases that she sold in order to help those less fortunate than she.
Contrast that with the selfishness of Elizabeth Elliot in PERSUASION, who, upon hearing that her family is in debt and must make reductions to its customary state of luxury, responds as follows:
Elizabeth, to do her justice, had, in the first ardour of female alarm, set seriously to think what could be done, and had finally proposed these two branches of economy, to cut off some unnecessary charities, and to refrain from new furnishing the drawing-room.In Jane Austen's world, kindness did not end with charitable acts to one's neighbors. Care for the well-being of one's friends and family was as essential then as it is today. Which is why the selfish and miserly John and Fanny Dashwood of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY are comic figures as they debate John's deathbed promise to his father to help provide for the dying man's widow and three daughters.
Says Fanny Dashwood of the widow and children's financial
"Five hundred a year! I am sure I cannot imagine how they will spend half of it; and as to your giving them more, it is quite absurd to think of it. They will be much more able to give you something."
Despite Austen's skewering of the selfish and miserly, she
is always practical in her sensibilities. Take this line from Emma:
"If we feel for the wretched, enough to do all we can for them, the rest is empty sympathy, only distressing to ourselves."So stop distressing yourself and do something. Just DO ONE NICE THING. Start here. Start now. You'll feel so much better. And more important, you will spread happiness to others. And they to others. And so on.