C. S. Lewis on human behaviour

"The Golden Rule" poster by Scarboro Missions

"The Golden Rule" poster by Scarboro Missions (Scarborough, Ontario, Canada: 2006).
Image credit: Harry J. Gensler - Golden Rule

It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may sometimes be mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table. Now if we are agreed about that, I go on to my next point, which is this. None of us are really keeping the Law of Nature. If there are any exceptions among you, I apologise to them. They had much better read some other book, for nothing I am going to say concerns them. And now, turning to the ordinary human beings who are left:

I hope you will not misunderstand what I am going to say. I am not preaching, and Heaven knows I do not pretend to be better than anyone else. I am only trying to call attention to a fact; the fact that this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people. There may be all sorts of excuses for us. That time you were so unfair to the children was when you were very tired. That slightly shady business about the money—the one you have almost forgotten—came when you were very hard-up. And what you promised to do for old So-and-so and have never done—well, you never would have promised if you had known how frightfully busy you were going to be. And as for your behaviour to your wife (or husband) or sister (or brother) if I knew how irritating they could be, I would not wonder at it—and who the dickens am I, anyway? I am just the same. That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm. The question at the moment is not whether they are good excuses. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much—we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so—that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility. For you notice that it is only for our bad behaviour that we find all these explanations. It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves.
C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: A revised and amplified edition, with a new introduction, of the three books, Broadcast talks, Christian behaviour, and Beyond personality, (San Francisco, California: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 7. Originally broadcast as a series of BBC radio talks between 1941 and 1944. First published as Broadcast Talks: Reprinted with some alterations from two series of broadcast talks (“Right and Wrong: A clue to the meaning of the universe” and “What Christians believe”) given in 1941 and 1942 by C. S. Lewis, (London: G. Bles, 1942).

C. S. Lewis Posted on behalf of C. S. Lewis on Monday, June 14th, 2010 under Quotations.

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