Everyone has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds
funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however
it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important
from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things
"How'd you like it if anyone did the same to you?"
- "That's my seat, I was there first" - "Leave
him alone, he isn't doing you any harm" - "Why should
you shove in first?" - "Give me a bit of your orange;
I gave you a bit of mine" - "Come on, you promised."
People say things like that every day, educated people as
well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups.
Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the
man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man's
behaviour does not happen to please him. He is appealing to
some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other
man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies:
"To hell with your standard." Nearly always he tries
to make out what he has been doing does not really go against
the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse.
He pretends there is some special reason in this particular
case why the person who took the seat first should not keep
it, or that things were quite different when he was given
the piece of orange, or that something has turned up which
lets him off keeping his promise. It looks, in fact, very
much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule
of fair play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you
like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they
have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals,
but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word.
Quarrelling means trying to show the other man is in the wrong.
And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you
and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong
are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer
had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about
the rules of football.
Each man is at every moment subjected to several different
sets of laws but there is only one which he is free to disobey.
As a body, he is subjected to gravitation and cannot disobey
it; if you leave him unsupported in mid-air, he has no more
choice about falling than a stone has... That is, he cannot
disobey those laws which he shares with other things; but
the law which... he does not share with animals or vegetables
or inorganic things is the one he can disobey if he chooses.
I know that some people say that the idea of a Law of nature
or decent behaviour known to all men is unsound, because different
civilisations and different ages have had quite different
But this is not true... If anyone will take the trouble to
compare the moral teaching of say, the ancient Egyptians,
Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will
strike him will be how very alike they are to each other and
to our own.
Excerpt taken from pages 15 &16 of 'Mere Christianity'
by C.S. Lewis (Fontana Books paperback published by Collins)