We have all been the victims of proverbial wisdom, particularly when we were children. A large part of the job of parenting is to bombard one’s offspring with warnings and advice in the form of easily remembered clichés posing as absolute truths. My mother was very fond of these, and had a large collection of them as perhaps mothers still do: it never rains but it pours; all’s well that ends well; still waters run deep; silence is golden; the devil makes work for idle hands. Well, that last one may be true. But usually, whenever I heard one of these fragments of instant wisdom, I felt like saying: wait a minute, let’s think about this. But it’s too late. Once a proverb has been uttered it has done its deadly work.
One of her favorite sayings, when she was exasperated with someone was: “Well, I suppose it takes all sorts to make a world.” It was a statement of resignation, and in a way of kindness. Whatever the provocation, she smoothed it over with the reflection that it takes all sorts to make a world, and therefore the existence of this particular annoying type of person must in some way be necessary, or at least inevitable. This was a piece of wisdom I found impossible to swallow. I couldn’t deny that there were all sorts of people in the world, but many of them seemed and still seem to me to be utterly unnecessary and surplus to requirements.
As a boy I could have pointed to bullying school teachers, and bullies in general, and overbearing aunts and Herr Hitler who, during my early childhood, seemed determined to blow us up. Could these people be necessary? Now, of course, I would have a much longer list, but the principle would be the same. The world would be a better place without those people who are determined to make it worse.
This is not exactly a new idea. Remember the song in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado” when Ko-Ko the Lord High Executioner of Titipu describes all the irritating people he would like to get rid of. “I’ve got a little list/They’ll none of them be missed/I’m sure they’ll not be missed,” he sings, and I’m sure he’s right.
Another proposal along the same lines can be found in a funny novel by Douglas Adams called The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the story an imaginary alien race called the Golgafrinchens decided to put all the most useless and aggravating people on their planet into a gigantic spaceship and launch them off into nowhere. The spaceship eventually crashed on to the empty planet earth about a million years ago, and its passengers – telephone sales persons, game show hosts, and of course politicians – became our ancestors. This is meant to be ironic, of course, at least I think it is.
Tolerance is a basic Christian virtue, and the utopians of all ages have assumed that people are essentially good, no matter how bad they appear on the outside. The formidable philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein considered that, “It takes all sorts to make a world” was a beautiful and highly moral point of view.
I hesitate to argue with Wittgenstein, but in this case I must. It does not take all sorts to make a world, and I‘ve got a little list.
Copyright: David Bouchier