Elizabeth Bennet’s Embarassment

One of the benefits to my particular version of re-booting is that I have a lot of free time on my hands. Having been a bookworm all my life, I am indulging in the pleasures of returning to the classics: Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, The Sound and the Fury, Tom Sawyer, as well as a few more recent works. Immersing myself in the language and lore of these iconic stories not only allows me to escape from my daily worries about The Rest of my Life, but reminds me that such struggles have plagued humanity, lo these many years…

It also gets me thinking about how funny and ridiculous people are. Indeed, humor is probably the best possible go-to remedy for just about any of humanity’s ills. We all have the crazy, embarrassing relative who insists on being themselves at the worst possible moment. The trick in re-booting, however, is to recognize that their behavior is not a reflection of us and to learn not to overreact to their foibles.

For instance, in Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet is trying to persuade her father to forbid her silly sister from traveling to Bath (where she intends to flirt with soldiers).

He listened to her attentively, and then replied, “Lydia will never be easy till she has exposed herself in some public place or other….”

“If you were aware,” said Elizabeth, “of the very great disadvantage to us all which must arise from the public notice of Lydia’s unguarded and imprudent manner; nay, which has already arisen from it, I am sure you would judge differently in the affair.”

“Already arisen!” repeated Mr. Bennet. “What, has she frightened away some of your lovers? Poor little Lizzy! But do not be cast down. Such squeamish youths as cannot bear to be connected with a little absurdity are not worth a regret.”
….
With this answer Elizabeth was forced to be content; but her own opinion continued the same, and she left him disappointed and sorry. It was not in her nature, however, to increase her vexations by dwelling on them. She was confident of having performed her duty, and to fret over unavoidable evils, or augment them by anxiety, was no part of her disposition.

This extract from Jane Austen’s work has much to recommend it. The fact that Mr. Bennet was unconcerned that his daughter was going to make a fool of herself and pragmatically lectured Elizabeth that someone who cannot tolerate a bit of absurdity is not worth bothering over is well said. We’ve all acted foolishly and, yet, others have somehow seen their way clear to continue to enjoy our company and love us for who we are. Isn’t that a relief? It is for me. Further, the fact that his darling Elizabeth was dismayed was not so upsetting to him that he changed his answer simply to placate her. A wise man, indeed.

And, to Elizabeth’s credit, although unhappy with her father’s stance, she didn’t dwell upon something she couldn’t change. She didn’t pout or mope or try to cajole him into changing his mind; she went on with her day, knowing she had done all she could do and that was that. We can learn from our heroine. How often have we fixated on something about which we can do nothing? How often have we let our impotent unhappiness about another’s behavior impact our day or our perception of ourselves? I’ve spent way too much time in my life fretting over how another’s behavior would adversely reflect on me when the truth is (and it can’t be repeated enough) a person’s words and actions and attitudes are about them; they are not about you, no matter how closely associated you are.
This is a key rule to re-booting, my friends. And once you fully embrace this, you’ll be able to go out into the world feeling a whole lot more free. We all know couples where one of the two is an unmitigated ass and the other perfectly pleasant. In nearly all such cases, our assessment of the pleasant partner remains undamaged despite the downside of their other half. Mostly, we just feel sorry for them and wish them well on their escape.

My point is that when you find yourself caught in an undertow of embarrassment not of your own making, remind yourself that it’s not about you. And trust that those who know you recognize this, too.

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One Response to “Elizabeth Bennet’s Embarassment”

  1. Carrie-Lee Early Says:

    Bravo:  well said indeedie (you may have just gotten the identical email– yahoo plays tricks on me every now and then.)

    ________________________________

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