Characters we love to hate. Or is it characters we hate that we are asked to love?
I am a big fan of Downton Abbey. For these past six years, Mom and I have watched Sunday night seasonal episodes between January and generally February or early March. This past Sunday, as Lady Mary essentially ruined Lady Edith’s future with her venomous reveal to Bertie, the idea of her own happy ending framing the episode made me mad. Yet, we watch her in second wedding bridal regalia with her dapper groom and there is this pleasure in seeing things go well for her.
Tom’s reaction and comment to her about how she ruins everything around her because of her own unhappiness, that she was a bully and just like all bullies it is her own insecurity that results in her lashing out with evil.
On the Masterpiece Studio episode that covers round table discussions on the previous night’s episode, I hear sympathy in a way- that Lady Mary is only mean when Lady Mary is unhappy. She lashes out at Edith when her own world is sad. How pathetic and I won’t even deign to call it childish, because I don’t want to lump every child into that negative behavior.
It occurs to me that in the bully, are we asked to feel sympathy? That the bully is a bully because of his or her own weakness, sadness and unhappiness?
Lady Mary & Thomas the under butler, are both mean. They are mean when they are sad. They lash out at others when their world is unsettled or when they feel inferior. Are we meant to come up beside them and offer encouragement, sympathy and compassion?
I think back to junior high school. The year was 1979, and I was a victim of bullying from multiple sources. I was afraid to go to math class, because there, I would find Norman. He would make fun of me as I enterred the class room, he would tease me and even push me slightly in the hopes that I would drop my books or papers. If he encountered me in the hallways, no matter where on campus, he would side bump me hard into the lockers to throw me off balance, again in the hopes that I would lose the pile of notebooks and papers that I held tightly in my arms. Bully Norman.
What was Norman’s story? Was he bullied at home- by a parent, a sibling? Did he feel irrelevant at home and therefore needed to act out at school? Did he lose something or someone that made life unbearable and the only way he could see his way through it was to smack me up against a locker near my Home Economics Class?
There are co-workers that I can think of over the years who have steam rolled, ridiculed, criticized and made life unpleasant for others. People who make life hell at work, who create a sense of dread at the very thought of entering work’s doors. Were they just wounded souls themselves that need a ‘pass’ and a dose of mercy? Really? I am meant to support them and give them a permission slip of forgiveness for their ugliness?
Am I meant to be the bigger person?