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Ellsworth Toohey (giving an advice to a young man who is passionate about law):
“No, I wouldn’t go in for law if I were you. You’re much too tense and passionate about it. A hysterical devotion to one’s career does not make for happiness or success. It is wiser to select a profession about which you can be calm, sane, and matter-of-fact. Yes, even if you hate it. It makes for down-to-earthness.”
“Yet a man’s career concerns all society. The question of where you could be most useful to your fellow men comes first. It’s not what you can get out of society, it’s what you can give.”
~ The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
Question: Acharya Ji, what Toohey says here is both right and wrong, and I cannot pinpoint. It is true that one must do what is needed in the society, but it is also true that when one does what one is good at, only then hundred percent efficiency is achieved and the society is benefitted.
Please guide me on this matter.
Acharya Prashant Ji: This is word-play Vatsala (the questioner), and you must be able to see through it.
First of all, when Toohey (one of the characters in Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’) says, “You must be useful to your fellowmen,” what is the definition of ‘usefulness’?
Remember, remember, remember, and I have been saying this again, and again, and again –
That you are in bondage, and you want Liberation.
That you are in mediocrity, and you want excellence.
That you are caged, and you want to fly.
That you are suffering, you want Joy.
That is the definition of ‘human welfare’.
So when you are told that you must be useful to your fellow beings, then this is what you must remember and ask, “Am I able to bring my fellow beings to Liberation and Joy? Only then can I be called as ‘useful’.”
But Toohey’s definition is very different. He says, “You are useful to your fellow beings when you help them remain as they are.” Not only you help them remain as they are, you also turn into one of them.
So on the surface of it he says all the right things, but what he means by these things is very-very rotten.
The Saints too preach – “Please be of use to the society, Love thy neighbour,” – and such things. “Help others, serve the world,” Saints too say that. But when Saints say, “Help the world,” they do not mean that you become like the world.
If you become like the world, how will you help the world?
They say, “Have Light and show Light.”
That’s what the Saints mean – “Have Light, and show Light.”
What Toohey means is – “If you have Light then you are insulting darkness.” Toohey says, “If you have Light, then you are insulting darkness.”
So as per Toohey, the only way you can help the world is by becoming as dark as the world.
Watch the session video: The dangerous meaning of ‘helping others’ || Acharya Prashant, on ‘The Fountainhead’ (2019) The transcription has been edited for clarity.
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