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Module 1: WHO SAYS

(Page 20) Resource sheet 3

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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 like this:

"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 moralities.

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)


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