I was recently inspired to begin re-reading the works of Jane Austen. One of my continuing education classes is in family systems, and part of our recommended reading is Ron Richardson’s Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Relationships. It wasn’t hard to convince me to read Richardson’s book—one, because I have benefited from his other books on how understanding our family systems can assist us in our work as leaders, and two, I couldn’t resist the title.
In the book, he examines various characters in Austen’s novels from the stand point of Bowen theory. You don’t have to know much about Bowen’s family systems theory to get the idea that when we enter into a relationship, we do so at varying levels of readiness for healthy and mature interactions. Jane Austen was astonishingly astute at perceiving the way in which our longing for love and connection can either be strengthened or sabotaged by character, sense of self, and emotional maturity.
As I was reading the book, I found myself trying to remember the various character’s strengths and weaknesses, and finally decided that to fully participate in the conversation, I would simply have to go back to the source. This was in no way a hardship. I have always loved Jane Austen.
An unexpected consequence of reading Richardson and Austen at the same time, was a renewed sense of frustration over the loss of artful conversation and clear writing in our daily lives. We have so many ways in which to tell our stories these days—but I often wonder if we have abandoned the power of style, clarity, beauty of the spoken and written word in our obsession with brevity and lowering of expectations. It seems to me that our primary means of communication depends on sound bytes, tweets (140 characters or less) acronyms (LOL) and emojis (insert smiley face here). We are seldom challenged (or enriched) by interesting word choice, a beautifully crafted description, or a poetically expressed sentiment.
I am not advocating for verbosity or needless complexity. But have you ever wished, when selecting a movie to watch or a book to read, that the characters, just this once, could at least speak in complete sentences?! And do all our modes of communication need to be reduced to language choices we knew by third grade?
This may make me sound like a word snob. I don’t mean to be, and I certainly don’t care for people who pepper their conversations with esoteric words just to prove they are smarter than me. But there is something delightful in reading a book like Pride and Prejudice and allowing myself to revel a bit at the way in which Jane Austen can transport me with a description of a quiet evening at home that makes me want to sit next to her in front of the fire. And wouldn’t it be delicious to be crafty enough in the art of language to be able to put an impertinent cad in their place without resorting to vulgarities and dull put-downs, i.e. allowing your disapprobation to be known without resort to crudities or simple name-calling. She was the master!
I love simple and clear writing. Being concise can be an art form in itself. But every once in a while…wouldn’t it be lovely to engage in the felicitous art of gracefully crafted communication. It would require slowing myself down. Thinking before speaking. Weighing the impact of my words. Perhaps this might even be something I could direct my energy toward during the coming season of Lent. A time to consider the power and impact of my own words. And to pause to think through what I am trying to communicate, rather than blurt out whatever happens to be bubbling below the surface with little thought or deliberation. It may be worth considering. It might even be an interesting spiritual disciple. In the meantime, I have Jane’s characters to delight me with their graceful speech, and only hope to be positively influenced by their understanding of the human heart and our desire for connection.
See you Sunday. Blessings, Pastor Nancy