Six Life Lessons from Leo Tolstoy – Lesson 2: Practice Empathy

Lesson 2: Practice Empathy


Tolstoy was one of the great empathic adventurers of the 19th century, displaying an unusual desire to step into the shoes of people whose lives were vastly different from his own. Following the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861, and influenced by a growing movement across Russia which extolled the virtues of the peasantry, Tolstoy not only adopted traditional peasant dress, but worked alongside the laborers on his estate, ploughing the fields and repairing their homes with his own hands. For a blue-blooded count, such actions were nothing short of remarkable. Although no doubt tinged with paternalism,



Tolstoy enjoyed the company of peasants and consciously began to shun the literary and aristocratic elite in the cities. He also founded an experimental school for peasant children based on the libertarian and egalitarian ideas of Rousseau and Proudhon, and even taught there himself. Unlike many of his fellow aristocrats who claimed solidarity with rural laborers, Tolstoy believed you could never understand the reality of their lives unless you had a taste of it yourself.


by Roman Krznaric,