January 28, 2017
As to being important, there is a very limited sense in which this was true. But a person who went round proclaiming, “I am important, I am important” would seem to us either pathetic, as if he were whistling in the wind of his own complete insignificance, or, if he used his supposed importance to push his way to the front of a line, say, in order to be served before everyone else, very unpleasant indeed.
We are all important in an existential sense, that is to say in the sense that is meant by the religious”or should I say, by certain of the religious?”who claim that God loves us. But if we are each of us important in this existential sense, none of us is more important than anyone else, and therefore we do not have to proclaim our importance in this sense, nor ought we to. And no one, I think, would ever have claimed that the little girl was unimportant in the existential sense.
Now, clearly, from the empirical point of view, there are people who are more important than others according to circumstances. Barack Obama is now much less important in this empirical sense than he was two years ago. Your doctor is very important to you when you are ill, but much less important when you are not, whereupon your butcher, baker, or accountant takes over. But again, even when a person is important in the empirical sense, we do not find it very attractive, to put it mildly, if he proclaims his own importance.
The little girl at the demonstration in Washington proves that Dickens exaggerated nothing when he created the character of Mr. Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit. Introducing his daughters to Mrs. Todgers (who embraces them “with affection beaming in one eye, and calculation shining out of the other”), Mr. Pecksniff says, “Mercy and Charity, Charity and Mercy. Not unholy names, I hope?”
In like fashion, the little girl’s mother says, via her daughter, “Kind and smart, smart and kind. Not unattractive qualities, I hope”and hereditary, too!”