Classifying people is all but forbidden in these times. Many consider the act of rendering judgment on a group of people to be discriminatory. Pointing out bad traits can be hurtful, it is said. It is best to leave things unsaid and consider all humanity as one huge coddled mass of marvelous snowflakes without blemish.
However, there were those in the past who did classify people. That was when making distinctions was prized, for it showed discernment and insight into reality. These discussions, even when negative, helped people understand and improve themselves. They enriched the culture with lively debate and stimulating conversation.
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An Astute Observer of Life
One person who classified others was the French writer Jules Romains (1885–1972). He was a member of the French Academy and a prolific writer of satire and novels. While of a liberal mindset, he was an astute observer of life and people. In one essay, displaying his sharp intellect and power of expression, he outlined three groups of people.
He believed that people could be classified according to the subjects that habitually occupy their minds. Such thoughts direct their actions and orient their lives. By categorizing people on the type of thoughts, he avoided judging their opinions, which could quickly degenerate into partisan debates.
Those Who Think About Ideas
Thus, his first classification, superior to the others, was made up of those who habitually thought about ideas. These people can abstract from the concrete items and develop thoughts on the nature of things.
People of ideas find comfort in philosophy and theology that deal with the reasons for existence. They think about arts and sciences that help others understand the universe and its meaning. These people will be thinkers who ponder things, discovering patterns and theories. Although they are detached from concrete things, such thinkers develop helpful ideas that can be put into practice and thus help the practical realm run more smoothly.
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Of course, as a secular liberal, the famous author does not include religious ideas, themes and doctrines. Religious ideas that soar to heaven make people capable of the most elevated discourse that attracts and orders souls. The rational explanation of the Faith represents the highest expression of this classification.
The Nature of Events
The second group consists of those who habitually think about events. These people are more oriented toward action and history. This category is less important than the first since it involves less the powers of the intellect.
Of course, an event is not just anything that happens. Events are those things that have an impact on public opinion. World War II was an event. Similarly, he would have considered the 9/11 attack on America as an event.
Political affairs, like debates and elections, are events. Events involve significant manifestations of cultural, economic or national achievement. They have their expressions in history with feats that inspire present action. Events motivate people to think beyond their self-interest and promote the common good.
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Left unmentioned by the French novelist were religious events—the highest form of events—like the Incarnation of the Word and the Redemption of humanity. History revolves around them.
Thus, those who think about events can positively influence society. They enrich the culture with their discussion of these history-making achievements.
Those who Think About Facts
The third category of people is comprised of those who habitually think about facts. Facts are different from events because of their insignificance. The small actions of eating, drinking and sleeping that occupy everyone’s time are not events but facts. They have very little impact on society as a whole.
Mediocre individuals are habitually obsessed with the petty facts of their little worlds. They talk about the weather, sports and minor incidents. Their conversations are bland and unattractive compared with those involving ideas and events.
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A Fourth Category
The noted Catholic thinker, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliviera, commented on Jules Romains’s three classifications, adding a fourth major category. It concerns a dominating defect in these postmodern times.
This fourth category consists of those who habitually only think about themselves. These egoists see themselves as the center of the world. They find it difficult to be interested in anyone else, save as means for their self-aggrandizement. Thus, in my aunt, the emphasis is on my, not on the relationship, much less the aunt’s qualities. The person is obsessed with self. Me, myself and I dominate the person’s mind.
The members of this group represent the triumph and delirium of mediocrity. Their shallowness and emptiness make their lives and those around them miserable. They are dull and uninteresting. They quickly become narcissistic. They worry nonstop about how each action will reflect on them in their self-centered world.
Such people obsess about what to wear and say and what others think of them. They are ever seeking the adulation and approval of those around them. They claim to have no master but easily become the slave of fashion and public opinion.
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The Fourth Category Dominates
Tragically, this egocentric category is the most common classification today. Social media caters to this group of people by encouraging them to think about themselves. They are constantly pressured to project themselves on Facebook and other media in the best possible light, even if it distorts reality.
Another factor contributing to the dominance of this classification is the accelerated pace of life. Those who embrace the rat race fail to ponder the meaning of things and thus occupy themselves with ideas. Their frenetic intemperance leads them to ignore important events and even inconvenient facts.
The present society discourages the classification of people since it will necessarily reflect badly on the majority. Self-worshipping individuals hate distinctions that illuminate their shortcomings. They prefer to sink into the anonymous masses, free to pursue their mediocre desires inside their little worlds.
Indeed, the dominance of the fourth category is such that it makes for a second simpler set of classifications: Those who think only of themselves and those who do not.
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