Why You Don't Need to Fear Being an Outsider

Why You Don't Need to Fear Being an Outsider

"Epic Quotes" is a category all by itself. There are some quotes you just need to have down somewhere where you can revisit it over and over again and share with friends. Here we're keeping track of some of our favorite quotes. We might offer commentary below the quote, or give you the commentary of someone else on the quote, like this one. 

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Epic Quote

Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.
— C.S. Lewis, "The Inner Ring," Memorial Lecture, King's College University of London, 1944

Epic Commentary

Taken from the collection of essays in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, "The Inner Ring" is a short address Lewis gave to a young adult audience.

Lewis warned them about the temptation to get on the inside, to be well liked by the people who "matter most" in society, to get in with the in crowd.

Lewis, considered by some as an outsider in the Oxford world, exhorts his audience to stay busy honing their own craft, to become great in their own fields and to essentially care less for what the so-called "Inner Ring" is up to, and to care more about your own work and your own friends. 

I reread this little address quite often as a reminder to keep my head down, do "the work" before me, and to surround myself with the people I really like, rather than the people I'm supposed to like.

As a writer who contributes to the Christian world of publishing, I find Lewis's words resonant because they confront a culture predicated on networking, platform building, and leveraging. From Junior High to publishing deals (insert your own vocation here), we all want to be included; we all want to feel appreciated. 

But you and I can end up sacrificing precious things if we blindly pursue this Inner Ring: 

  1. Sound thinking for pop-theology
  2. True spiritual affection for cause crusading  
  3. Our integrity ransomed to gain influence
  4. Loving relationships for transactional ones
  5. Diverse relationships for people who only think like us

It's the desire to be included that drives us towards the Inner Ring. And that drive can ultimately wreck us.  

In the address, Lewis makes a bold statement regarding human desire. He says:

I believe that in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.  

Lewis goes so far as to say that this desire to be included in the Inner Ring is stronger than our sexual desire (contra Freud). Indeed, we find Lewis, nearly three years earlier, preaching on just that topic in his epic sermon "The Weight of Glory." (June 8, 1941)

The literal weight of glory Lewis talks about in this sermon is the weight that accompanies God's appreciation, God's acceptance. This is what truly drives us. And when we don't realize that we are accepted by God, we look for this acceptance in other things. 

Being an outsider, for Lewis, is a matter of perspective.

Lewis's perspective is, "Hang it all, I'll do my own thing," rather than giving up whatever it takes to get in with the Inner Ring.

When we realize we are, in fact, appreciated by God, that we possess a certain glory before him, then the desire to be included with the so-called popular crowd fades.

In front of God all that matters, then, is to get to work, find good friends, and have at it.

When we live like this, we become like another who lived his life as an outsider; a man who, though on the outside of society, created his own Inner Ring. Not on purpose, but by simply going about his work, surrounding himself by a close few. Jesus was the original outsider. 

Lewis reminds us that when we pursue friendship and happiness in this way, when we stop looking at what the cool kids are doing, when we get to work, a strange thing happens. We end up creating our own Inner Ring.

The quest for the inner ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters.

You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know.

But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.

And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside, that you are indeed sung and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring.

But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric, for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things they like. This is friendship.

Lewis knew a thing or two about this. The literary group he started with a few close friends, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, continues to inspire and shape culture.

C.S. Lewis, fourth from the left. Photo taken at The Trout, just outside the Port Meadow in Oxford. 

C.S. Lewis, fourth from the left. Photo taken at The Trout, just outside the Port Meadow in Oxford. 

It's a radical concept to renounce the "in crowd," and search for comfort on the outside. But I think our world needs more outsiders right now. So, let's get to work ... on the edges.  


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