Saturday, December 21, 2013

C.S. Lewis on Rudeness / "The Four Loves" 2

"The Four Loves"  has been on the back-burner.  But I always find that C.S. Lewis does me good.  He provides medicine, a salve applied by a sage, a loving doctor.  His dialectics have nothing ill-bred in them.  He heals even while he cuts.  He seems to have thought about this tension:  love and affection vs. honesty and rudeness.  The Bible exhorts us to speak the truth in love. Lewis exhorts us to speak freely, but with care:

"We hear a great deal about the rudeness of the rising generation.  I am an oldster myself and might be expected to take the oldsters' side, but in fact I have been far more impressed by the bad manners of parents to children than by those of children to parents.  Who has not been the embarrassed guest at family meals where the father or mother treated their grown-up offspring with an incivility which, offered to any other young people, would simply have terminated the acquaintance?  Dogmatic assertions on matters which the children understand and their elders don't, ruthless interruptions, flat contradictions, ridicule of things the young take seriously--sometimes of their religion--insulting references to their friends, all provide an easy answer to the question 'Why are they always out?  Why do they like every house better than their home?'  Who does not prefer civility to barbarism?

If you asked any of these insufferable people--they are not all parents of course--why they behaved that way at home, they would reply, 'Oh, hang it all, one comes home to relax.  A chap can't be always on his best behaviour.  If a man can't be himself in his own house, where can he?  Of course we don't want Company Manners at home.  We're a happy family.  We can say anything to one another here.  No one minds.  We all understand.'

Once again it is so nearly true yet so fatally wrong.  Affection is an affair of old clothes, and easy, of the unguarded moment, of liberties which would be ill-bred if we took them with strangers.  But old clothes are one thing;  to wear the same shirt till it stank would be another.  There are proper clothes for a garden party;  but the clothes for home must be proper too, in their own different way.  similarly there is a distinction between public and domestic courtesy.  The root principle of both is the same:  'that no one give any kind of preference to himself'.  But the more public the occasion, the more out obedience to this principle has been 'taped' or formalized.  There are 'rules' of good manners.  The more intimate the occasion, the less the formalization; but not therefore the less need of courtesy.  On the contrary, Affection at its best practices a courtesy which is incomparably more subtle, sensitive and deep than the public kind.  In public a ritual would do.  At home you must have the reality which that ritual represented, or else the deafening triumphs of the greatest egoist present.  You must really give no kind of preference to yourself;  at a party it is enough to conceal the preference.  Hence the old proverb 'come live with me and you'll know me'.  Hence a man's familiar manners first reveal the true value of his (significantly odious phrase!) 'Company' or 'Party' manners.  Those who leave their manners behind them when they come home from the dance or the sherry party have no real courtesy even there.  They were merely aping those who had.

'We can say anything to one another.'  The truth behind this is that Affection at its best wishes neither to wound nor to humiliate nor to domineer.  You may address the wife of your bosom as 'Pig!' when she has inadvertently drunk your cocktail as well as her own.  You may roar down the story which your father is telling once too often.  You may tease and hoax and banter.  You can say 'Shut up.  I want to read.'  You can do anything in the right tone and at the right moment--the tone and moment which are not intended to, and will not, hurt.  The better the Affection the more unerringly it knows which these are (every love has its art of love).  But the domestic Rudesby means something quite different when he claims liberty to say 'anything'.  Having a very imperfect sort of Affection himself, or perhaps at that moment none, he arrogates to himself the beautiful liberties which only the fullest Affection has a right to or knows how to manage.  He then uses them spitefully in obedience to his resentments;  or ruthlessly in obedience to his egoism;  or at best stupidly, lacking the art.  And all the time he may have a clear conscience.  He knows that Affection takes liberties.  He is taking liberties.  Therefore (he concludes) he is being affectionate.  Resent anything and he will say that the defect of love is on your side.  He is hurt.  He has been misunderstood." (pp. 52-55)

--I really like the  "You may address the wife of your bosom as 'Pig!' when she has inadvertently drunk your cocktail as well as her own."  It probably happened just like that between him and his wife.  But in the setting it is not meant to hurt, nor does it hurt.
  "Not giving preference to oneself"  is not a phrase we use nowadays, and here it is the guiding principle.  What does it mean?  Probably just this:  love your neighbor as yourself.  Don't do to him what you would not like to have done to yourself.  Or, as there is deep affection and knowledge, to consider the person's true needs and feelings and guide your words and actions by this understanding. 

Anyhow, it is all good advice as the Christmas family gatherings are approaching.  It is said that many a family has a falling out after having eaten and drunk too much together.  Something to watch out for in this season of Affection and indulgence. 

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