CATEGORY: WINDING DOWN
“Where does discretion end and avarice begin? I am sure I don’t know.” These are the words of Elizabeth Bennett, heroine of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Upon careful thought I think these are the words that describe the prime message of all Jane Austen’s books with their never ending parade of satirical characters, some of whom learn better ways and some not.
These are my words too. I have spent most of my life seeking balance. It is my belief that we are all seeking balance.
Jane Austen grew up in 18th century England, in an age where the only respectable income-producing occupation, if one were a gentleman, was the clergy, the military or as an heir of an estate. If one were an unmarried lady, one could only be an heiress or a governess and still be respectable. It was a disgrace for ladies and gentlemen to be “in trade” or to “work”, making it necessary to marry with monetary considerations (discretion), but not to the point of being greedy or mercenary (avarice). So, to a thinking person of philosophical nature, as was Ms. Austen, the balance between discretion and avarice was indeed a point to be pondered. She stayed home, wrote her books and refused to marry at all, which may have been her wisest choice.
Balance and WISDOM. Let us not forget wisdom. Perhaps they are the same thing. In my deepest heart, these are what I want for myself.
Over the years there have been many points of balance that I have struggled with, including some small thought to discretion and avarice. But we have grown beyond Jane Austen’s age. Now anyone can work and make their own money. Avarice becomes just a matter of degree related to ambition. Not that it would not benefit the Ken Lays’ of the world to spend some time pondering Jane Austen’s dilemma.
I will not go into the many times I have lost my balance or what the issues were. I have only to say that my largest and most on-going trip-up is one that I will call Bliss or Blindness–or Friendliness versus Weak Spine. Where does friendliness, niceness, gentleness stop and being-taken-over begin?
I think of THE GOOD WOMAN OF SICHUAN. She was a woman that everyone looked up to as a Saint–so kind, so generous, so caring. She fed the hungry, housed the homeless, clothed the ragged, nursed the sick. Then when she had reached the limit of her endurance, she would dress up like a man and kick them all out in the street.
I think of Walter Mitty, who was so meek and accommodating. He imagined being strong and forceful. He imagined what he should have said–or what he should have done.
And then there is me. I think of all the times that I have kept my mouth shut when I should have said something, and the times I opened my mouth when I should have kept it closed. When will I ever reach that place in life where my mind works instantly and wisely and I know exactly what to say? Will I ever learn the Elizabeth Bennett art of being firm at the right time, of chastising without giving offense, and knowing when to remain silent?