Self-improvement is an emanant phenomenon, emerging outward from interior modifications and manifesting, primarily, in improved social relations. We see this movement in Pierre after his release from captivity. Yesterday we read of his pivot towards God and the consequent adoption of a more present, mindful and universalist psychology. Today we see how this interior change tweaks his social life. “Formerly he had appeared to be a kind-hearted but unhappy man and so people had been inclined to avoid him,” Tolstoy writes of Pierre. “Now a smile of the joy of life always played around his lips, and sympathy for others shone in his eyes and a questioning look as to whether they were as contented as he was, and people felt pleased by his presence.”
The first change Pierre makes is to listen to others rather than to speak himself. Recall his introduction, way back on Day 2 of A Year of War and Peace, where he engages in “reverse acts of impoliteness” as he interjects in and rudely prolongs conversations he has no business talking part in. Now he’s more likely to remain silent and listen. This attracts different people to him.
This pro-social disposition initiates a virtuous cycle wherein “this legitimate peculiarity of each individual, which used to excite Pierre, now became a basis of the sympathy he felt for, and the interest he took in, other people” and with each new person he meets the sympathy is compounded. He draws on this compounding interest to make quick, intuitive decisions that profit not only himself but, more importantly, others.
The identicalization of the other signifies Pierre’s true interior change. Tolstoy concludes today’s chapter by articulating how Pierre improves himself by improving his relations with others: “Pierre had experienced a feeling of joy, freedom, and life; but when during his journey he found himself in the open world and saw hundreds of new faces, that feeling was intensified. Throughout the journey he felt like a schoolboy on holiday. Everyone — the stage-coach driver, the post-house overseers, the peasants on the roads and in the villages — had a new significance for him.”
The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light are these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship.
Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf