Imitate or Loathe
Day 78 of A Year of War and Peace
Whereas yesterday’s reading taught us about the importance of friendship and community today’s chapter warns us about the dangers of keeping community with the wrong people.
We start innocently enough. Dolokhov extends an invitation to Rostov to attend a farewell feast at the English Hotel. Rostov, sociable fellow that he is, accepts.
Right away Rostov should have decided to make a short stay of it at the English Hotel. He observes Dolokhov’s “clear cold glance” as soon as he enters the room. It’s a look that appears “as though he had long expected him.”
Dolokhov has his mark.
From the start Dolokhov bullies Rostov into playing cards. He even stakes him, telling Rostov not to worry about money. But Rostov should be worrying about money because he has been told by his father that money is tight at the moment. So he must be careful.
He’s not careful.
He loses everything and then some. And Dolokhov loves it.
We’ve previously found the humanity in Dolokhov. But the fact remains that Dolokhov does have a reputation for mischief. And he’s definitely got a mean streak in him. It may just be, therefore, that while it’s perfectly reasonable to extend care and understanding to him, it might not be the best policy to spend time much with the guy.
At some level we start to become our company.
A comrade who is squeamish gradually enervates us and makes us soft; a neighbor who is rich pricks up our covetousness; a companion who is malicious rubs some of his rust off upon us, however frank and generous we may be. Then what do you suppose happens to character when an assault is made upon it with total mobilization? Inevitably you either imitate or loathe. But both alternatives must be avoided. Neither become like the bad because they are many, nor hostile to the many because they are different. Retire into yourself, so far as you can. Associate with people who may improve you, admit people whom you can improve. The process is mutual; men learn as they teach.
Seneca, Letter on Crowds