C. S. Lewis: “…almost the greatest evil nasty people can do us…”
C.S. Lewis had a way with words. Lewis’ way with words is ever evident in his personal letters.
Mrs. Shelburne had apparently been treated poorly by some variety of committee secretary. Lewis’ response is, as usual, theologically insightful and practically helpful. The quote below is from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume lll: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963.
TO MARY WILLIS SHELBURNE (W):
Nov. 10th 1952
Dear Mrs. Shelburne
I am sorry things are not better. I am v. 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 job will materialise…
How often do we let people “become an obsession” and “haunt our minds?” It is easy enough to forgive and forget some transgressions. But there are always certain offenses committed by certain individuals that we seem to be unable to let go. This only allows the nasty person to perpetually scorn us.
I hope I can learn from Lewis. I hope I can begin to say a brief prayer for the nasty person and then move on to other more important tasks. That is, if only I can “stick to it.” Prayers appreciated.
Listening is only half the battle. The war is won by asking the right questions.
I am blessed to work in communications, inspired by entrepreneurship, and a learner of leadership.