In his classic novel Bleak House, Charles Dickens introduced the character Mrs. Jellyby, "a lady . . . who has devoted herself to an extensive variety of public subjects, at various times, and is at present (until something else attracts her) devoted to the subject of Africa."
Three travelers arrive at Mrs. Jellyby's house. One visitor describes one of Mrs. Jellyby's children as "a child who was one of the dirtiest little unfortunates I ever saw." Another child's tumble down a flight of stairs causes no alarm in Mrs. Jellyby. She is too preoccupied dictating a letter concerning Africa.The author has one of the visitors say: "Mrs. Jellyby . . . greeted us with perfect equanimity. She was a pretty, very diminutive, plump woman . . . with handsome eyes, though they had a curious habit of seeming to look a long way off. As if . . . they could see nothing nearer than Africa!"
Mrs. Jellyby's house was "not only very untidy, but very dirty." All who lived in it were terribly unhappy.
The reader learns that Mrs. Jellyby spreads misery over all her household while she is preoccupied with her concern for bringing happiness and comfort to those in Africa. The chapter introducing her is titled, appropriately enough, "Telescopic Philanthropy."
It seems some are quicker to respond to needs of people they've never met in far-off places than to help the needy at their own doorstep, down the street or across town. But true philanthropists, unlike Mrs. Jellyby, have vision broad enough to take in the needs of those close by as well as on the other side of the world. Although she is called such, Mrs. Jellyby is no philanthropist.
The world needs true philanthropists, those individuals who help humankind through gifts and financial donations, expertise and talents, energy and devotion to a cause. True philanthropists have a genuine love for people everywhere - at home under their own roofs as well as abroad - and who demonstrate a great desire to improve the condition of life for others. They have done much to relieve pain and suffering, to promote education and progress, to erect buildings and build lives. The real philanthropists put the welfare of others before their own interests, exemplifying total selflessness and true altruism.
Philanthropy is not limited to the wealthy, to "those who can afford to give," and it never comes at the expense of others. Speaking to the Nephites, King Benjamin described a kind of philanthropy. Judging by how we feel when we read the words of this righteous king, we can tell whether we implement the spirit of philanthropy:
"And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just -
"But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God." (Mosiah 4:16-18.)
Perhaps the parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known examples of philanthropy. (See Luke 10:30-35.)
Philanthropy is part and parcel of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What better system is there for improving mankind temporally, spiritually, physically, morally - indeed, in every aspect of life - than the Savior's own restored Church?
President Lorenzo Snow, in 1884, counseled members of the Church: "Be ambitious to be great, not in the estimation of the worldly minded, but in the eyes of God, and be great in this sense: `Love the Lord your God with all your might, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.' You must love mankind because they are your brethren, the offspring of God. Pray diligently for this spirit of philanthropy, this expansion of thought and feeling, and for the power and ability to labor earnestly in the interest of Messiah's kingdom." (The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p. 10.)
Imagine what the world would be like if more people had the spirit of philanthropy, not the kind that is telescopic but that which takes in a wider view, the kind that begins in our own households and neighborhoods, and spreads out across borders and boundaries. Think of what philanthropists can do to bring comfort, relief, nourishment, hope and healing to those near and far who mourn, who are burdened and hungry, who are destitute, ill or in pain. In some way, each of us can help.