Our local PBS station recently re-aired all six seasons of Downton Abbey during a pledge drive. I’ve enjoyed them, but as a consensus trainer and author, I also had professional reasons to watch.
I wanted to follow the development of the friendship between ultra-traditionalist Lady Violet and Isobel Crawley, a progressive thinker and tireless volunteer worker. From their first meeting, the two women grate on each other and disagree about everything.
But by the 5th season, the two tough old birds are friends, companions and confidantes. When Isobel gets engaged, Violet feels sad that she won’t see her nearly as often.
How did this happen? Did scriptwriter Julian Fellows develop the relationship realistically, when viewed from my professional perspective? Indeed he did.
Isobel’s son Matthew is killed in a car crash on the very day his first child is born. Six months later, Isobel still sits at home, doing nothing but mourning. Violet kindly and gently urges Isobel to start getting out, beginning with a dinner at the Abbey.
Later, Violet becomes seriously ill, needing round-the-clock care to avoid pneumonia. Isobel, a trained nurse, insists on being the only one to care for Violet for several days and nights. Violet pulls through.
The women’s respective misfortunes bring out their kindness. They show each other that they are both good people. The friendship builds from there.
In these days, when politically and religiously motivated writers and broadcasters strive to make us fear and hate those of different persuasions, we can take a lesson from Violet and Isobel: the way to break down barriers and build bridges to civil dialogue is, not to argue with others’ beliefs, not to post pithy memes on Facebook, but rather, to show others that we are good, caring people.
If you like learning from examples like this, read my book, Love on the Rocks with a Twist.