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Monday, May 21, 2007

Telescopic Philanthropy

"A long time ago I read Bleak House and I'll never forget the phrase Dickens used about one of the characters, her 'telescopic philanthropy.' I forget the name of the person, but she was someone who neglected her own family while being preoccupied with the problems of distant natives in Africa or Asia or wherever. For a while the two words kept ringing in my ears: an accusation. I was in the middle of my Greenwich Village life, full of concerns for people everywhere, but not doing the best job with my personal life. I would get angry with myself for letting those words bother me. I said to myself: Someone has to stand up for people far away from us who are being exploited or who are starving to death. What's wrong with telescopic philanthropy? I would ask the question, and I would mobilize my answers to it, but I was still upset. I felt - inside me, someplace - that Dickens had someone like me in mind when he wrote those words. I remember, once, feeling torn between the desire to throw that book [Bleak House] out the window, and a desire to brand myself with the initials T.P., my 'scarlet letters.'
"I'm being foolish now - I was being foolish then" melodramatic. But seriously, we have our risks to run, all of us, and I think Dickens had taken the measure of many of us when he gave us telescopic philanthropy."
-Dorothy Day, "...A Radical Devotion," pgs 155-156