Another ancient savant on a topic dear to my heart IV

I was acquainting you with the wise thoughts of Seneca on “benefits” and the thought behind it in the one who extends them, the ideal (hoped-for) response in one who receives it and related matters and giving you the most relevant statements he made on the topic (see previous posts with this title), instead of citing the whole work, which encompasses seven books. Here, the famous Roman Stoic philosopher defines “benefits”.

~~What, then, is a benefit? It is the art of doing a kindness which both bestows pleasure and gains it by bestowing it, and which does its office by natural and spontaneous impulse. It is not, therefore, the thing which is done or given, but the spirit in which it is done or given, that must be considered, because a benefit exists, not in that which is done or given, but in the mind of the doer or giver. How great the distinction between them is, you may perceive from this, that while a benefit is necessarily good, yet that which is done or given is neither good nor bad. The spirit in which they are given can exalt small things, can glorify mean ones, and can discredit great and precious ones; the objects themselves which are sought after have a neutral nature, neither good nor bad; all depends upon the direction given them by the guiding spirit from which things receive their shape. That which is paid or handed over is not the benefit itself, just as the honour which we pay to the gods lies not in the victims themselves, although they be fat and glittering with gold, (an allusion to the practice of gilding the horns of the victims) but in the pure and holy feelings of the worshippers.

If benefits consisted of things, and not of the wish to benefit, then the more things we received the greater the benefit would be. But this is not true, for sometimes we feel more gratitude to one who gives us trifles nobly, who, like Virgil’s poor old soldier, “holds himself as rich as kings,” if he has given us ever so little with a good will a man who forgets his own need when he sees mine, who has not only a wish but a longing to help, who thinks that he receives a benefit when he bestows one, who gives as though he would receive no return, receives a repayment as though he had originally given nothing, and who watches for and seizes an opportunity of being useful. On the other hand, as I said before, those gifts which are hardly wrung from the giver, or which drop unheeded from his hands, claim no gratitude from us, however great they may appear and may be. We prize much more what comes from a willing hand, than what comes from a full one. This man has given me but little, yet more he could not afford, while what that one has given is much indeed, but he hesitated, he put it off, he grumbled when he gave it, he gave it haughtily, or he proclaimed it aloud, and did it to please others, not to please the person to whom he gave it; he offered it to his own pride, not to me.

I think this much should suffice here for the man of discernment (okay, the woman too)  though ideally, they are addressed to those in most need of these words but then this section is never amenable to suggestion… had they been, they would have known better and displayed more rectitude in their lives. However, I can just try….

To be continued…..



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