This post is part 2 in a series. See part 1, in which I argue for one theory of what snobbery is.
In the first post we talked about the nature of snobbery. It often shows up as a desire to be “uncontaminated” by the things we judge to be in poor taste, or things we judge to be inferior.
From music snobbery to fashion snobbery to people snobbery, the snobbish desire to avoid contamination is usually destructive and wasteful, cutting us off from other people and from potentially good experiences. It’s one thing to have good taste. It’s another to recoil from everything that isn’t to our liking.
So what’s the solution?
There’s a saying of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew that I think gives a good hint.
Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” – Matthew 15:10-12
Jesus was directly addressing one of the fundamental drivers of his culture: purity and cleanliness. The basics of Jewish law around “clean” and “unclean” foods weren’t snobbery per se, but they could certainly be carried out to the point of snobbery* by the religious school of the Pharisees.
What’s genius about Jesus’s teaching here is that it shifts the focus of value from external cleanness to internal cleanness. It’s not what goes in that matters – it’s what goes out. You could even go one step further and say that what emanates from a person’s living and speech actually has the power to make unclean things clean.
This is a powerful teaching for the snobs of the world (and we all are snobs about something).
What if, instead of understanding the things we hate – bad music, bad clothes, bad company, bad food, political opponents, religious enemies, etc – to be sources of “bad taste” infection, we considered ourselves sources of “good taste” redemption?
You don’t have to like the things you genuinely consider to be in bad taste. But instead of walling yourself off from them, insulting them, and hating them, you can interact with them freely and without fear. You won’t be “infected” by hanging out with those Donald Trump/Hillary Clinton supporters – but they might be infected by your kindness and respect. You won’t be “infected” by that godawful country rap music playing at the party – you can still enjoy the party. You won’t be “infected” by eating those mediocre h’ordeuvres. Perhaps you’ll be able to win your host over to better food next time.
The chief difference – and how you know you’ve transcended snobbery – is that you won’t let the things you disdain keep you from enjoying yourself or keep others from enjoying themselves. You’ll be patient, and you’ll win people to good taste instead of smashing them for bad taste.
Intellectual credit: Rob Bell for his work on Jesus
*The context of this quote comes after the Pharisees confront Jesus for his disciples’ habits of not washing their hands before eating. Admittedly, the Pharisees may have had a point in this particular case, but Jesus was not making the case against sanitary hands – he was arguing that little practices like handwashing do not make a person “clean” before God.