C. S. Lewis Daily - Sunday, March 23, 2014

TO MARY WILLIS SHELBURNE: On disagreeable, nasty people; and on avoiding obsessing about their bullying.

10 March 1954

I am sorry things are not better. I am very puzzled by people like your Committee Secretary, people who are just nasty. I find it easier to understand the great crimes, for the raw material of them exists in us all; the mere disagreeableness which seems to spring from no recognisable passion is mysterious. (Like the total stranger in a train of whom I once asked ‘Do you know when we get to Liverpool’ and who replied ‘I’m not paid to answer your questions: ask the guard’). I have found it more among boys than anyone else. That makes me think it really comes from inner insecurity—a dim sense that one is Nobody, a strong determination to be Somebody, and a belief that this can be achieved by arrogance. Probably you, who can’t hit back, come in for a good deal of resentful arrogance aroused by others on whom she doesn’t vent it, because they can. (A bully in an Elizabethan play, having been sat on by a man he dare not fight, says ‘I’ll go home and beat all my servants’). But I mustn’t encourage you to go on thinking about her: that, after all, is almost the greatest evil nasty people can do us—to become an obsession, to haunt our minds. A brief prayer for them, and then away to other subjects, is the thing, if one can only stick to it. I hope the other job will materialise. . . .

I too had mumps after I was grown up. I didn’t mind it as long as I had the temperature: but when one came to convalescence and a convalescent appetite and even thinking of food started the salivation and the pain—ugh! I never realised ‘the disobedience in our members’ so clearly before [Romans 7:23]. Verily ‘He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it, hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart’ (or in his glands) [Matthew 5:28].

I shall wait anxiously for all your news, always praying not only for a happy issue but that you may be supported in all interim anxieties.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III
Compiled in Yours, Jack

The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963. Copyright © 2007 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis. Copyright © 2008 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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