Not quite a refutation, but merely a protest — and perhaps a defense of illiteracy. Zweig writes beautifully; persuasively; in colorful prose that captivates; in convincing form — if not in logical argumentation, but more as a poet who is convinced that words, books, literacy and the spread of the written word is indispensable to life itself.
He ends with this poetic flourish: “The more intimately the man associates with books the more profoundly he experiences the unity of life, for his personality is multiplied; he sees not only with his own eyes but with the countless eyes of the soul, and by their sublime help he travels with loving sympathy through the whole world.”
Who can argue with that? Who can so poetically refute and rebut a sentence of such insightful beauty? Yet, it is not with the argument for books and literacy that is objectionable, but rather, the notion that the man with whom he met and befriended but who is later found to be illiterate — that this rampage of sorrow and defense of literacy is at the expense of this unfortunate man.
Consider how he describes such a person: “He is walled in by himself, because he knows nothing of books; his life is dull, troglodytic (Definition: a “member of any of various peoples (as in antiquity) who lived or were reputed to live chiefly in caves” — i.e., “cavemen” or “cavewomen”). And: “I was shocked to think how narrow the world must seem to the man who has no books.”
True, Zweig may have felt pity for his new-found friend, whom he previously described as a person who possessed a “genius for mimicry and caricatured everybody”, and whom he found fascinating and of enjoyable company — until, it turns out, that he discovered his illiteracy.
The essay ends without a conclusion; perhaps he took the time (without writing about it) with the friend and taught him how to read. More likely, they went their separate ways — the other fellow pitied for the remainder of Zweig’s days, the author convinced that he was an individual to be pitied. But that is the criticism to be posited, isn’t it? That we make judgments without judging ourselves, and unjustifiably when we have the power to do something about the ills we encounter.
For Federal and Postal employees who have encountered that very circumstance — of facing judgments by others while nothing is being done — of a Federal Agency or the Postal Service that has determined that you are not worth “saving” because of a medical condition that now prevents you from performing one or more of the essential elements of your Federal or Postal job; it is then time to consider filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS.
Don’t wait around for help from your Agency or the Postal Service; it is likely that you will not receive it. Instead, consult with a FERS Disability Attorney who specializes in Federal Disability Retirement Law. For, in the end, the decision to take the next step to “help yourself” will be up to you, and you should not consider the Federal Agency or the Postal Service to help you as your “friend” — leaving aside whether they will even feel a scintilla of pity for you; they won’t.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire