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