Shrewd with a touch of kindness and honesty


What happens when you have too much kindness and honesty is a long life – and for most of us that will include respect and being treated fairly.  However, it is the element of shrewdness that enable a general to capture a city defended by walls and strong men.

Every New Year’s Day since, older people in varying numbers have come together at Hull- House to relate early hardships, and to take for the moment the place in the community to which their pioneer life entitles them. Many people who were formerly residents of the vicinity, but whom prosperity has carried into more desirable neighborhoods, come back to these meetings and often confess to each other that they have never since found such kindness as in early Chicago when all its citizens came together in mutual enterprises. Many of these pioneers, so like the men and women of my earliest childhood that I always felt comforted by their presence in the house, were very much opposed to “foreigners,” whom they held responsible for a depreciation of property and a general lowering of the tone of the neighborhood. Sometimes we had a chance for championship; I recall one old man, fiercely American, who had reproached me because we had so many “foreign views” on our walls, to whom I endeavored to set forth our hope that the pictures might afford a familiar island to the immigrants in a sea of new and strange impressions. The old settler guest, taken off his guard, replied, “I see; they feel as we did when we saw a Yankee notion from Down East,”–thereby formulating the dim kinship between the pioneer and the immigrant, both “buffeting the waves of a new development.” The older settlers as well as their children throughout the years have given genuine help to our various enterprises for neighborhood improvement, and from their own memories of earlier hardships have made many shrewd suggestions for alleviating the difficulties of that first sharp struggle with untoward conditions. – Jane Addams

“It is far too easy,” Jacobs writes, echoing the fourteenth-century French humanist Jean Gerson, “for the point of…discourse to be lost in the apparatus.” This is precisely the danger Milosz hoped to avoid by emphasizing literature’s duty to record “naked reality.” The point, as Jacobs and Milosz both seem to understand, is that imaginative literature is essential to our spiritual development. The practice of writing, reading, and appreciating it is inseparable from our pursuit of truth, because its prime effect is to heighten perception. Sensitive readers of books make shrewd students of reality. “How did literary writers come to be seen by many as the best custodians and advocates of Christian faith?” Jacobs asks. The answer might be that they always were, but that it took the nightmares of the twentieth century to wake us up to their importance.  –  Alan Jacobs





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