“How blessed are we that are not simple men! Yet nature
might have made me as these are, therefore I will not disdain”
The Winters Tale. Act 1V.Sc.1V
This is not only one of Shakepeare’s profoundest comments, but one of the greatest sayings of all time. It’s sublime ethical tone lifts it to the level of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others…”
It is, along with Beethoven’s 9th, one of mankind’s supreme treasures.
But notice two things about it: its utterly devastating simplicity and its total unexpectedness. Shakespeare, in a moment of light-hearted comedy, drops this shining pearl beyond worth into the mud, so casually and so unexpectedly that at first one hardly even notices it. He almost makes a joke of it.
But, as the meaning sinks in, we suddenly become aware that this is no laughing matter and that he is, in fact, saying something vitally important, and to our surprise we gradually realise that the rogue Autolycus has become, in Shakespeare’s hands, one of the world’s very greatest moral teachers.
For what, in essentials, is this disreputable, amoral, pick-pocket saying, afterall?
It is nothing less than the fact that no-one has any reason whatsoever for thinking or acting as if he or she is in anyway superior to anyone else: that there is simply no justification whatsoever on whatever grounds for looking down on, or being condescending towards, another person simply because they may appear to lack breeding, intelligence, looks or sensitivity. There is no room for arrogant pride.
The answer is simple – Nature might have made you as they are.
Afterall, you didn’t make yourself. Neither did they.
You didn’t choose your place and position in life; you didn’t have any say as to who your parents would be. You didn’t give yourself your talents, dreams, brains or have a hand in deciding what nationality you would be, or – and how important this is – at what point in the world’s history you would be called upon to act your part in the scene. You weren’t, in fine, the author of yourself.
You might just as easily have been born of peasant people in Mongolia, just as the meanest outcast of the streets might have been reared in Buckingham Palace as heir to the British throne.
You yourself can claim no merit for what you are and what you have, so why “the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely” or “the insolence of office”? Nature might well have made you as he is, so why the disdain?
Besides, as the great Chinese poet Tao Yuanming once said: “Treat him kindly for he is also someones son”.