Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Good Opinion

I have been thinking on the subject of My Good Opinion.  In preparing for some nuptials I was asked if I didn't have a high opinion of ... someone... (who doesn't read my blog, but may - at some point) "because she had decided to serve a mission."  I don't.  I have met this girl on one occasion and she did NOT make a good impression. At all.  I remember her whispering to her boyfriend behind her hand throughout a family event, not engaging anyone, and then skulking out the door with bf in tow to "get away" from the family without so much as a "thank you for inviting me to your family event."  A family who is about as menacing and intimidating as, say,  a fluffy baby bunny with a bow around it's neck in a silk basket with taffeta ribbons.

I am not a great socialite mind you - and oftentimes in engaging people in conversation to draw them out, I have spoken hastily and/or awkwardly. Social situations leave me drained.  But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault -- "because I would not take the trouble of practicing." And because it is difficult for me, it is also hard to ignore the actions of someone who is so downright rude and thoughtless.  Her bf said that she was just "shy," which I have always attributed to another form of selfishness - someone more worried about themselves than the people around them. At least in my opinion.

Do I have a good opinion?  Anything that someone would desire?  And if so - what is it based on?  In "thinking out" this quandary I keep coming back to the interaction between Elizabeth Bennett, and Mr. Darcy from Jane Austin's novel, "Pride and Prejudice." In one scene the hero and heroine lock horns over their opinion of each other:

Lizzie launches: "I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise."

"No," said Darcy, "I have made no such pretension. I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding-- certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offenses against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever."
"That is a failing indeed!" cried Elizabeth. "Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well. I really cannot laugh at it. You are safe from me."

"There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil-- a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome." 

"And your defect is to hate everybody."

"And yours, "he replied with a smile, "is willfully to misunderstand them."

I wouldn't say that they have a high opinion of each other - would you?  If you have read the novel, then you know that they are both right, and they are both wrong in their assessment.  A grain of right in a sea of wrong, as it were.  In the end, Lizzie discovers -via her visual prejudice - that she has "willfully misunderstood" Darcy - he doesn't hate everybody he just hates country dances and country manners.  Darcy realizes too that his pride has kept him from having the same easy association with strangers as his own familiar circle. He comes across as though he hates and criticizes everyone. Largely because he makes it look that way.

What changes the opinion of these two over the course of a whole novel?  Actions.  Darcy sees Elizabeth's actions with her family, with her friends, with visitors and even among his own friends and family.  His good opinion is not lost forever in circumstances of the heart because though born in the country, Lizzy pays no attention to social norms, but very good attention to people and the things in life that matter.  She walks because she enjoys it, cares for her sister when ill, is highly respected among her peers, and tries valiantly to bridge the divide between family, obligation, and social grace.

Lizzy opinion also begins to alter when must sit silent as Darcy's character and talents are unwittingly sketched for her by her aunt, uncle and the Darcy's housekeeper:

Housekeeper: I'm sure I know none so handsome, nor so kind.
 Mr. Gardener: Indeed.
 Housekeeper: Aye, sir. I've never had a cross word from him in my life, and I've known him since he was four years old, but then I've always observed that they that are good-natured when they are children, are good-natured when they grow up.
Mrs. Gardener: His father was an excellent man.
Housekeeper: He was, ma'am, and his son will be just like him: the best landlord, and the best master. Ask any of his tenants or his servants. Some people call him proud, but I fancy that's only because he don't rattle away, like other young men do.

So, we must own that not everyone is at their best all the time.  Surely it is wisdom that we leave room for opinions to change as we observe others and their actions.  Actions do speak louder than words.  Actions over a long period of time speak volumes.

Like Mr. Darcy I do make judgments.  I like to allow for the better in human nature, but I also prepare for the worst. Though imperfect and riddled with faults of my own, I also have a calm assurance of rights and wrongs and act accordingly.  My dad once said of me that I was like a clear channel.  It is a communication channel on which only one transmitter operates at a time.  No static.  No interference from competing stations.  Just a clear signal.  And I try to be that.  Constant. Predictable.  I do not mask what I think, or flatter someone I despise.  Social? Yes.  Fake?  No.  Only one feeling operates at a time.

And what is it worth?  I am true to myself.  I am a truth-teller.  I believe that I would have been the one saying out loud, "The Emperor has no clothes!" Or - "The first time I met you, you were really rude!  Nice to see that you changed.... or not."  I can't understand the desperate lengths some go to to avoid speaking the truth.  Voicing a sound and salient opinion. Surely this attribute won't win me any popularity contests, but this I know; it doesn't really matter what others think of me. I just try to align what I do and say with that of the one person whose good opinion I do crave. And if you want my opinion, I'll note your wisdom for asking, and then let you have it.  But, in the end, it is only God's opinion of me that will matter. Well, at least that's what I think, in my humble opinion.


Sarah E. said...

Ahhh, Pride and Prejudice! I mean need I say more? I love that book, over and over. It makes me cringe in all the right places, every time I read it. (Maybe it's time to crack it open again!)

Opinions are often like the book though. I find myself thinking badly of someone I don't know very well, and often someone who is more beautiful, successful, ect. and I want to justify those bad / judgemental feelings because I am jealous. Then I get to know them a little better and I feel ashamed of my previous thoughts.

All I can say is "here here!" I am also glad that no one's opinion of me matters except God's, but I am even gladder that my opinion ultimately doesn't matter either. I don't think I can be trusted. I don't know enough to make those kind of calls.

Reggs said...

I need to read that book. Or see that movie. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one walking the planet who hasn't.
My feeling is that everyone is struggling with life, and our main job is to be kind.

Erika said...

Very good. I need to "crack it open again" too. Love the book. Love the thoughts. Love how you say it like it is.