A PERPETUAL STIMULUS TO CHARACTER-CREATION

I found this quote in a book called C.S. Lewis’s List: The Ten Books That Influenced Him Most. It’s from the chapter on Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson. I instantly recognized myself and realized Oh, maybe that’s why I find human contact draining!

“The older I grow, the more clearly I see that this is one of the ways in which the human race can be divided up. Some people give the impression of being exactly the same in company as they are when alone. The same raw, untreated personality which serves them for solitary meditation, country walks, cleaning their teeth, casting their accounts, has to do duty in public too. They respond to other people, but they do so artlessly, much as animals might. Such people are often likeable, but my lifelong preference happens to have been for the opposite type, those for whom the presence of even one other person is a perpetual stimulus to character-creation. They are always giving a performance in the role for which they have cast themselves, making up the play as they go along, and tacitly inviting others to collaborate. That, indeed, is one reason why such people seek one another out; they enjoy being together because they very zest with which A plays his role puts B on his mettle to excel in his…By the mere fact of our birth, we have been cast for certain parts in the great play that is always going on, and we must act those parts with energy and imagination, making the most of every line…

If any reader still thinks I am referring to empty self-dramatizing and Narcissism, I must leave him at this point. Ultimately, the matter cannot be explained to those who do not understand it already. I doubt if even great literature can help much. Such a person could probably read […and here I pause for dramatic effect….] Boswell’s Life of Johnson and take it simply as a compendium of anecdote and aphorism, not noticing that what gives the book its vitality is exactly this delight taken by the principal characters in the fine performances they give as themselves. Johson had a heightened appreciation of the possibilities of being Johnson because Boswell was so delightfully Boswell.

Such people are in fact instinctively fulfilling a moral duty. The Creator…has equipped them with a certain identity, and they are all the time delightedly aware of this identity and out to get, and to give, as much fun as possible with it.”

–John Wain, Sprightly Running: Part of an Autobiography

2 Replies to “A PERPETUAL STIMULUS TO CHARACTER-CREATION”

  1. Philippe Garmy says: Reply

    Living intentionally is indeed a daily and often moment to moment decision. There are people, places and circumstances that seem miraculously to draw and pull you effortlessly into that person that wills to live fully alive, brimming with joy and good cheer. And, I hasten to add, most certainly for me at least, there are those people, places and circumstances that tempt, challenge and push you away in the opposite direction effortlessly too…Such a clumsy and silly man I can be when I fall and abandon His promises…but, truth to tell, over much time, lessons learned via experience, and sweet surrender, practicing His presence helped trigger the will and desire to be His brother, His ally, His friend and best performer on this life journey…I think it was Malcolm Muggeridge who once shared this pithy commentary, “Only dead fish swim with the current.”

    May our Lord bless you abundantly in this new year, Heather!!

    From Paris with love,

    Philippe

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Philippe, bless you and Happy New Year–I remember reading that Malcolm Muggeridge book, I think it’s just called Jesus, while at what turned out to be a ghastly 40-day silent retreat on the Gulf Coast of Texas…Anyway, this phenomenon of being drawn to the person who is alive and joyful seems to me to be the best and maybe the only real way of “evangelizing.” Not that we’re even trying to evangelize in any organized, intentional way. “Come and see”…I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between a Catholic “personality” and a servant of love/art. The first has “followers: the other has friends…

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