The Plague, by Albert Camus, ended up on the long reading list because a friend had mentioned it once, explaining that there were victims and carriers and healers, if I recall. It felt like it could be relevant. Once I started reading it, I didn't find that at all, until the end.
It is Tarrou speaking to Rieux:
"All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it's up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences. That may sound simple to the point of childishness; I can't judge if it's simple, but I know it's true... If, by making that statement, I, too, become a carrier of the plague-germ, at least I don't do it willfully. I try, in short, to be an innocent murder. You see, I've got no great ambitions.
I grant we should add a third category: that of the true healers. But it's a fact that one doesn't come across many of them, and anyhow it must be a hard vocation. That's why I decided to take, in every predicament, the victim's side, so as to reduce the damage done. Among them I can at least try to discover how one attains to the third category; in other words, to peace."
Tarrou was swinging his leg, tapping the terrace lightly with his heal, as he concluded. After a short silence the doctor raised himself a little in his chair and asked if Tarrou had an idea of the path to follow for attaining peace.
"Yes," he replied. "The path of sympathy."
There are a few paragraphs beyond that, where we learn that for Tarrou the plague goes beyond the literal plague that is devastating their town to include all of the bad that humans do to each other, but it is still a very small part of the novel, and yet a critical part of it. It makes sense that Tarrou becomes the key organizer of the efforts against the plague, and also that he gives his life for his efforts.
What strikes me most about it now is the humility in his philosophy, which for him is only realism. It would be wonderful to be only a healer, but we can do great harm without intent. I had a moment of thoughtlessness a few weeks ago that still makes me cringe.
You could argue that recognizing yourself as a carrier, and then trying to mitigate that, is the key. It is important, but Tarrou's identification with the victims - his sympathy - is a good path because it keeps his compassion and sense of humanity alive.
I'm going to tie it with something else I read back in January that touched me, from Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell:
"There are stages in the contemplation and endurance of great sorrow, which endow men with the same earnestness and clearness of thought that in some of old took the form of Prophecy. To those who have large capability of loving and suffering, united with great power of firm endurance, there comes a time in their woe, when they are lifted out of the contemplation of their individual case into a searching inquiry into the nature of their calamity, and the remedy (if remedy there be) which may prevent its recurrence to others as well as to themselves.
Hence the beautiful, noble efforts which are from time to time brought to light, as being continuously made by those who have once hung on the cross of agony, in order that others may not suffer as they have done; one of the grandest ends which sorrow can accomplish; the sufferer wrestling with God's messenger until a blessing is left behind, not for one alone but for generations.
With the things that have been happening to me and my family, I can't help but see them as part of a bigger picture. An individual solution for me would be great, and I would love it, but there would still be the bigger story out there, and I am connected to it.
If I forget that connection, then I too am carrying the plague.