Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Present-Day Dysfunction of Downton Abbey

If Downton Abbey has taught me anything, it is that families today are no different than families back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The financial and material prosperity of the Crawleys is irrelevant when it comes to family dynamics.

Violet Crawley—“Grandmama”—the matriarch, is an often biting gatekeeper. And when push comes to shove, she will do everything in her power to protect the family, even if it means attempting to force a granddaughter, Edith, to essentially give up her child by sending the child away to boarding school in order to preserve social standing and appearances.

The Crawleys have meddling and the sarcastic quip down to an art. When an indiscretion happens (or a perceived indiscretion), the family swarms. They get busy. Although their hands continue to have nothing to do, their minds and lips are working over time.

The same is true in families today. 

I marvel at the distant relatives who can suddenly insert themselves into a niece or nephew’s, cousin or sister or brother’s affairs, with the alacrity of a picnic in the park. They relish the "tsk-tsking," the shaking of the head and the “Can you believe it?” over their family member’s choices. Some even go so far as to take it upon themselves, uninvited and certainly not in the position of closeness or standing as say, a parent or best friend, to confront the perceived threat. It is their version of saving the world.

Crawleyesque dramas are created by family members who believe they must take ownership of family developments in order to create excitement in their own lives, and to satisfy their desire to deem their own existence as somehow superior. 

It is also a way to control. If one feels that their own life’s direction was compromised in the past, they believe it is up to them to control the path that other people take. And to be clear, control is not the same as guidance. Offering direction and guidance, when in a position to do so, is other-centered and completely confidential. Control is self-centered and indiscreet.

I’ve heard this sort of micro-management of others described as the nanny state, paternalism and helicopter parenting (only the pilot is not always the parents). 

I marvel at this boldness to insert one’s opinions and commentary on the lives of others (sometimes, but not always, under the auspices of “being concerned,” which is just another way of excusing gossip and landing a role in the drama).

I sense that such forwardness is often a result of being threatened by the choices of others; anything done outside of the culturally conditioned norm is anathema and “must be dealt with.” This is even more surprising when the supposed apostasy will in no way affect the chicken-little doomsayer who is running roughshod with their mouth.

By observing the Crawleys, I have come to realize that, sadly, family—God’s wonderful construct for support and grace, and yes, the occasional private admonishment or “speaking the truth in love” between appropriate parties (not to be pandered among other family members)—has been under attack since Adam and Eve. 

What better way to plant and feed animosity among family than to create busybodies who never learn to mind their own business and offer support where they can.

copyright Barb Harwood

“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips,” Romans1:29 (note how gossip is rated as wickedness right along with murder). 

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2

“...make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands...” 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (in part)

“We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies.” 2 Thessalonians 3:11

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