“Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”
In this oration at the University of London, Lewis talks about our craving, our need, our desire to be included. He describes the phenomenon of “Inner Rings,” (or today we’d call them cliques), and how our want to be a part of a group will drive us to do awful things. While Inner Rings may start as a natural and innocent aspect of human sociology, according to Lewis, they are not the prettiest aspect of our culture. He says that the goal of Inner Rings has to do with building your public image. The main goal in getting into a certain Inner Ring or clique is not friendship, but to make sure that others around you see you at this social level and that certain people are excluded from the group so as to distinguish your own social status. We are driven both by an intense desire to be well-liked and an equally intense fear of being an outsider to become a member of one of these small, close-knit circles. Also, Lewis points out that because it is popularity and not friendship which drives us to become a part of a clique, we quickly become bored with our “friends” and want to move on to the next higher Inner Ring. In this process of climbing the social ladder, the desire to belong and the fear of not belonging are often so strong that we are willing to do almost anything to become a part of it. We are willing to stab a true friend in the back or to do something perfectly awful to an outsider just in order to retain the division between yourself, one of the included and the other, the excluded. This, according to Lewis, is what happens when we do not reign in and control our passion to become a part of an Inner Ring.
If, however, we are able to get over our fear of exclusion, we can stop worrying about how we look to others and start to care about them not because of where they stand socially, but because of who they are. It is when we focus only on our work here on earth and on knowing people for who they are as God’s image-bearers, that we obtain (almost by accident) that for which we are truly looking. God gives us what we have really desired all this time – a close and intimate relationship with a few other people, and a place where we really belong.
“…you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the 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 that they like. This is friendship.”
God desires for us to have a solid group of true friends. It is important to have close relationships with those around us and God has placed in our hearts a desire for intimacy. However, we often make the mistake of looking for the fulfillment of this desire through the wrong types of “friendships.” It is only after we learn to care less what others think, to become comfortable in our own skins, and to focus on God alone, that we will be blessed with true and intimate friendship.