The Leaf and the Rake
Day 75 of A Year of War and Peace
The leaf doesn’t object to which way the wind blows it but the human animal becomes outraged over insignificant things like internet comments, traffic and the Oxford comma. Despite the millennia of collective experience we’ve had with disappointment, it’s still very easy to upset us. One would think that by now we would have developed at least a few automatic constructive coping strategies to employ when confronted with troublesome situations. Instead, it seems as if we’re fated to respond much like Nikolai Rostov does in today’s reading when presented with just the slightest amount of discomfort.
Things start out nicely enough for Nikolai. We learn that his position of privilege in Russian society grants him immunity from any repercussions for the part he played in the duel between Pierre and Dolokhov. In addition, he develops what appears to be a solid friendship with Dolokhov as he nurses the wounded through his convalescence. Finally, we’re even told that the first half of the winter of 1806 is “one of the happiest, merriest times for him and the whole family.” But this domestic bliss is short-lived because, much like Clarissa Harlowe finds to her dismay within her own family, Rostov soon discovers “jealousies and uneasiness in every breast, where all before was unity and love.”
The problem, at least as Rostov sees it, is that Dolokhov, after being introduced to the family, starts crushing on Sonya pretty hard. Natasha, perceptive young woman that she is, brings this to Nikolai’s attention. She also tells her brother that she doesn’t like Dolokhov. She thinks he’s “disagreeable and unnatural.”
Look at Nikolai’s response to this news. He starts withdrawing from family life. He spends less time at home — despite, as we’ve been told, how great this time with his family is — and more time at parties. He even becomes restless to get back to his regiment. Think about that: He’d rather be at war than spending time with his family. And all just because Dolokhov likes the girl he likes.
We know Dolokhov. He’s been a rake from the start. Rostov knows this. And, yet, Rostov allows himself to become upset when he introduces Dolokhov to his family and Dolokhov does what Dolokhov will do.
To expect bad men not to do wrong is madness, for he who expects this desires an impossibility. But to allow men to behave so to others, and to expect them not to do you any wrong is irrational and tyrannical.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations