The other day I heard a man tell some people all about his troublesome younger brother who was apparently fitted for nothing so much as a cell in prison. The man described some of the young man’s escapades and what a time the family had to save him from the consequences. He himself had lost several hundred dollars by him.
The story was quite unsolicited. The people to whom he told it were not intimate but casual friends.
I had liked the man before he started telling that story. When he finished I felt a sort of aversion for him. But why? Why shouldn’t he say his brother was a crook when it was perfectly true and when he had suffered so much from him, I asked myself?
And then myself answered, “It may not be wrong for him to say so, but it’s something more instinctively offensive than wrong, it’s bad taste.” Queer how we feel about certain things, isn’t it?
Such a breach of family loyalty is one such thing. Another is any breach of courtesy to age even when age does not fully deserve courtesy. For instance, suppose a mother and daughter or father and son are arguing and suppose the older person is in the wrong and is very obtuse and obstinate, yet if the son pushes home his point with the same force he would use toward someone of his own age, something in us shrinks.
He is right, yes, but we don’t like it. Our sympathies go out to his opponent. We don’t want him to use all his force. He has a right to, but we don’t want him to take advantage of that right.
Any breach of the obligations of hospitality, even when the guest has not lived up to his obligations as a guest, also offends some instinct within us. A guest may be selfish, critical, hard to please, may outstay his welcome, — and yet if the host should tell him to go, while one would know with one’s mind he was justified, some strange instinctive part of one would resent his act.
It seems to me it all goes back to Phillips Brooks’ sentence which I have so often quoted to you. “We don’t have a right to all our rights.’’ There are some things which while they are not wrong, are in bad taste.
One may have a right to do them but it has become a self imposed law of noblesse oblige among people with the highest breeding to cede certain rights, and when people stand on their rights and refuse to cede them it leaves a bad taste in our feeling towards those people.
Illogical? Perhaps so. But though I love logic I have come to see that there are some things even higher and greater.
— from Bad Taste by Ruth Cameron, 1917