Are there any women left who haven’t watched Pride & Prejudice? (If that is you, stop reading now and find a copy immediately. Fast. Why are you still here??) Some of us should probably admit to having seen it at least 2 or 3….. dozen… hundred….. times. 😛 As a teenager I was definitely most fascinated with the turbulent feelings between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. It was the Twilight-romance series for my generation of young people, and who could resist Mr Darcy’s love and obsession with Lizzie’s beautiful eyes and clever sense of humor?? We all saw ourselves in her spunky personality… and as receivers of such determined affection.
Recently I was struck by the string of events at the Netherfield Ball and then at Rosings Park. In many ways Elizabeth and her family were navigating a cross-cultural experience. She was spending time with people she didn’t fully understand, doing things that weren’t natural to her personality. She struggled to clearly communicate and sometimes assumed the worst of people or saw them as being less astute and less capable than herself.
This is probably best illustrated during her stay in Kent. She despised Lady Catherine de Burgh from the beginning for no better reason than difference in culture. She totally looked down on Charlotte because of her life choices. She treated Mr Darcy with intolerance and condescension, all while assuming that Mr Wickham was grievously wronged and a very charming person. (At this point should we apply Chris Pine’s line from Into the Woods?? “I was raised to be charming… not sincere!”)
In another culture it is incredibly easy to misread a person or situation and respond accordingly. Or worse yet to mean one thing and hear the words come out all wrong- GASP.
Elizabeth handled her new experiences in much the same way that the rest of us do in cross-cultural situations (especially in the beginning). She was over-confident in her own abilities. She viewed the words and actions of others through the lens of her own cultural experience… and made rash judgments about those people. She held herself above and apart from those around her. Instead of educating herself, she chose to use her own intuition and feelings to make important decisions.
She really made a mess of things. And led others to follow her example. And wasn’t open and forthright as she realized her mistakes. Which led to other unfortunate events… that could have been totally avoided. Sound familiar???
Fortunately for dear Lizzie, Jane Austen doesn’t deal in tragedy (or reality for that matter)- all the mistakes were neatly cleaned up. The damaged relationships were sorted out, and life moved on like none of it had ever happened. Happily, unrealistically, ever after.
Doesn’t really end that way in real life, does it. We can all admit to damaging relationship through false assumptions that led to bad decisions, poor choices or words, or misplaced trust. Sometimes this is fixable… sometimes not.
I learned something about cultural experience from Pride & Prejudice. Ask. Ask, ask, ask, ask, ask. Ask around. Ask a lot. Ask a lot of different people. Communicate. Articulate. Be open. And be grace-filled in your interactions with others.
Have you ever found yourself in Lizzie’s shoes? Our should I say, found yourself with your shoes in your mouth like Lizzie?? I know I have (and probably will again… and way sooner than I would like!)