None of us like to be considered “common.” No surprise; it’s not a complimentary adjective. We prefer to think of ourselves as exceptional . . . and, if not extraordinary, at least special.
In our democracies, with the possible exception of monarchies where the terminology may still exist, we’re no longer referred to a “commoners.” In fact, in the United States we can even design our own coats of arms!
If you want to add a “title” to your legal name, you can follow the example of some Americans who actually name their sons “Sir.” (Believe it or not, in 2012 it was the 998th most popular male name in California. Then there’s also “Prince Michael ‘Blanket’ Jackson II,” but let’s not go there.)
Owning a noble name is no prerequisite to possessing value. A well known quotation from C.S. Lewis dispels the misassumption that any human being is common or lacking in value. Every person is precious. Every person. And, no matter how tiny you ever feel on your most dejected day, you are special . . . precious . . . and (literally) unique!
There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
(The Weight of Glory).
As I was considering this subject I came across a less familiar, but equally true, comment from Lewis. He was writing during an age when class distinctions in Europe were still implicit. He turned the matter on its head in a wartime essay entitled “Private Bates.” Here Lewis says that the very things the “elite” esteem reveal just how slavishly they follow appearances.
We must get rid of our arrogant assumption that it is the masses who can be led by the nose. As far as I can make out, the shoe is on the other foot. The only people who are really the dupes of their favourite newspapers are the intelligentsia. It is they who read leading articles: the poor read the sporting news, which is mostly true.
There’s much truth, I think, to Lewis’ observation. Or, perhaps that is merely my blue-collar upbringing speaking.
Let’s close our thoughts on “common folk” with a rarely read piece of poetry from Lewis’ Spirits in Bondage. (This was a pre-conversion collection, and is the only work of C.S. Lewis that is currently in the public domain.)
Thank God that there are solid folk . . .
Who feel the things that all men feel
And think in well-worn grooves of thought
Whose honest spirits never reel
Before man’s mystery, overwrought.
Yet not unfaithful nor unkind
With work-day virtues surely staid
Theirs is the sane and humble mind
And dull affections undismayed.
O happy people! I have seen
No verse yet written in your praise
And, truth to tell, the time has been
I would have scorned your easy ways.
But now thro’ weariness and strife
I learn your worthiness indeed
The world is better for such life
As stout, suburban people lead.
“In Praise of Solid People”
Spirits in Bondage
7 thoughts on “Common People”
The world is truly better.
Lewis’s observation about who’s leading whom by the nose is worth noting even today.
One of the things I truly appreciate about democratic principles is that we are free to make choices to better ourselves, regardless of our family tree. We can be the first in our line to attend college (if that’s what we desire), we can marry and remain true to our spouse even if we come from a broken home, we can be good parents even if we were not blessed with the same.
Perpetuating class distinctions, and intentionally promoting envy that divides and downplays personal freedom for short-term political gain, are terrible things to behold.
Everyone used to be happy speaking what ever language they chose at home, keeping their customs/traditions within family and friends groups – not insisting all share and celebrate them – it was a family thing. In public people agreed to disagree, but be civil to each other. Around here, children were supposed to be respectful to adults no matter what race, culture, economic group.Things worked surprisingly well.
What a different world it is now. Special interest/political groups have no problem inflaming situations instead of diffusing them.
Forget that find what is in common instead of the differences.
True. Focusing on our commonalities makes life in a civilized society so much more friendly and… civil. I don’t see how people can reward politicians who major in vitriol.
Nice post, Rob, but I fear I hear poor Mr. Lewis quietly “tut-tutting” in his grave! Why? Because, of course, “it’s not a complementary adjective” should really be “it’s not a complimentary adjective”.
A small thing, but of such distinctions is great language formed.
Right you are. Thank you.
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