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Love, Death, Consideration and Happiness

Looking Back on Life After Reading "What Men Live by, and Other Tales"

In "What Men Live by, and Other Tales," a novel written by Tolstoy, a literary colossus from Russia,
God says Michael, an angel who committed a sin, would be forgiven
if he learns three truths and finds answers to the following questions:
First, what dwells in man? Second, what is not given to man? And last, what do men live by?
How would you answer these questions?
I’d like you to close your eyes and think of the life you have lived.
Article: Editor’s Office

What Dwells in Man?

According to a survey conducted by the Korea Association of Fundraising Professionals upon the request of the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, the biggest reason why people do not donate to charity is because “they can’t afford to.” Everyone wants to help those in need. It’s just that some take action, while others don’t. Have you ever felt bad because you couldn’t get off the fence and help someone, even though you really wanted to? If so, what do you think made you feel that way?

A poor shoemaker called Simon was walking past the chapel when he found the frail Michael, the angel, naked. At first, he proceeded to pass by the man, but then felt ashamed for his disregard and reprimanded himself.

“Simon, what do you think you’re doing? How could you think of ignoring a man who’s dying just because you got scared? Are you some kind of millionaire, who’s worried that this man might be a robber? Simon, shame on you!”

Simon removed his coat, wrapped it around Michael, and took him to his house. Matryona, Simon’s wife, was angry with him for bringing home a complete stranger when they were barely making ends meet. But after seeing Michael, she felt pity and made dinner for him. Hearing Matryona talking to her husband, Michael suddenly realized the answer to the first question “What dwells in man?” And realizes “Love is what dwells in man.”

Love is about not turning your back on others in a tight spot, despite being poor. Conscience is what makes one put love into action. Perhaps the reason why people don’t donate to charity is due to the lack of love, rather than financial reasons. Now, look back on yourself. And think of ways to take action if you feel that your love for others hasn’t been strong enough so far. You will be filled with happiness once you realize the truth, and accordingly take action. This is because it will be you who will burst with joy when you spread your love.

What is Not Given to Man?

Only once in a lifetime will your life change. This is when you realize that we all die eventually and your soul, sound asleep, begins to slowly awaken.
_ "You Are What You Think: 365 Meditations for Extraordinary Living," by Wayne Dyer

It is often said that people change their behavior and way of thinking as they age and get closer to death. When we’re young, we believe we’ll live forever and view life based on our past experience. However, as we get old and weak, we start to see life based on the time we have left. What’s important is that we can look back upon our lives humbly only when we understand and accept that we all eventually die.

“One day a man comes to the shop and says he wants a pair of boots that do not lose shape or become loose at the seams for a year. But then I stared at the man’s shoulder and saw the angel of death looming over him. I thought to myself, ‘this man is making preparations for a year though he would not live till sunset.’ It was right then that I remembered God saying “You will find out what is not given to man.”

The message that Tolstoy is delivering through Michael is that “God does not allow human beings to know when exactly they will die.” In his book, he portrays a man who will not live to see the following day foolishly preparing for a year later, and tells readers to think of death all the time. Many people live without thinking about death as if they will live forever. That’s why they prefer the expression “someday” to “right now”. If a mirror that shows you the future tells you that you’re going to die tomorrow, what will you start doing? Wouldn’t you look back upon your life and try to think of what you really wanted to do, or need to do?

If you only lived once, how would you make your life meaningful? People tend to associate a meaningful life with possessions and achievements. For example, how much money, how many subordinates, and the how much power a person had. However, it doesn’t matter if you were a billionaire if no one truly mourns for you after your death. Your life would not be deemed meaningful if no one comes to see you after your retirement, although you might have been in a position of power in the prime of your life.

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt once said “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” What kind of life are you leading? Are you working hard at work worth doing? According to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Self-examination refers to the activity of asking yourself, “Who am I? Why am I doing what I’m doing? How should I live?” ─ and trying to discover the purpose of life. A person who knows how to examine his or her life also knows to both earn money and keep away from money, to find the true meaning of life. Let’s look back on our lives thinking of death and try awakening our souls.

What Do Men Live By?

Michael learns the answer to the final question through a woman’s good deeds. The woman came into the shoe store with her twin girls whom Michael recognizes at once. The girls were the daughters of the woman whose soul he took away. Michael realizes something as he sees the girls who became orphans from the moment they were born still alive.

“When their mother begged me not to take away her life for her children, I hearkened to her, in agreement that children couldn’t live without their parent (which is Michael’s sin and the reason he was punished. Later on he takes the mother’s soul.) However, I found that the woman took the girls in, breastfed them, and looked after them as her own children. And when the woman showed her love and shed tears for the children who were not her own, I saw in her the living God and understood what men live by.

The children who lost both their parents were able to stay alive because the woman, who lived nearby, had love and sympathy for them. Looking at them, Michael realizes that human beings should help, care about, and live in harmony with others.

In his book "Give and Take," the American organizational psychologist Adam Grant categorizes people into three types: matchers, takers, and givers. Matchers take an eye for an eye; takers want more than what they give; and givers prioritize other people’s needs above their own. An analysis of each of these types based on wealth, power, and honor found that givers rank high and matchers and takers in the middle. It turns out that people who put others above themselves are happier and better off.

“People volunteering and being considerate to others are happier than those at the receiving end. Making others happy, at the end of the day, makes you happy and the same goes for when you upset them. If you were to look at a flower and say that it’s beautiful, would you be making it happy? Would you be happy in yourself? Try finding an answer to these questions.

“I understood that God does not wish men to live apart, and therefore he does not reveal to them what each one needs for himself. Though it seems to men that they live by care for themselves, in truth it is love alone by which they live.”

It’s human nature to want to help and be considerate to others, even despite being in a world that’s becoming more and more tough. I want us all to work to discover that very nature within ourselves. The reason why we love life is not because we’re used to it, but because we’re used to giving love. We should live life by putting our love into action and helping one another.

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