What Downton Abbey Taught Me About Finger Pointing

At this house we’re big Downton Abbey fans.

Big .

We watched season one four times, then cheated and had season two sent from the UK before the US release. We then watched it four times before ordering the Christmas special, again impatient, from the UK. We’ve watched DA so many times it’s commonplace around our house to hear the two smallest children quoting the acerbic Dowager Countess word-for-word.

“Do you promise?”

Yes, I do. But it takes neither that level of obsession nor that number of viewings to know that, although Lord knows he has ample reason, Mr. Bates (wonderfully played by Brendan Coyle), never once blames someone else when things go badly for him. Not when he’s tripped by the nasty Miss O’Brien and lands face down in the gravel driveway. Not when his horrid, estranged wife, Vera sets her sights on ruining his happiness with Anna. Not when Lord Grantham’s snuff boxes mysteriously go missing and he, being Grantham’s valet, is the prime suspect. His refusal to defend himself or (half the time) explain his actions even when he is in the right is almost irritating to my 2012 sensibilities. I’m so unaccustomed to noble responsibility-taking and refusing to point the finger that several times I found myself thinking (sometimes audibly), Come on Beets, say something!

We’ll have to wait until season three (hopefully Ian will spring for more international shipping charges) to see if Bates is guilty of the crime he is accused of, but, knowing his character, if he is guilty I’m surprised he hasn’t shakily stood up and, in his endearing, head-tilted way, said so.

I’m not as noble as Bates, I must admit. A few weeks ago, our dog, Kodiak, needed a vet check for chronic ear issues. I went in and a mere $456 later he was good as new. I was nervous to tell Ian because he (being a cat person) and I don’t exactly see eye to eye on the dogs. So I did something Mr. Bates would never do: When the vet suggested we try a hypo-allergenic diet for our 130-pound competitive eater, I told him that Ian would never in one hundred dog years go for the $50 bag of dog chow, no matter how helpful it might be for Kodi’s itchy ears.

I said this because I didn’t want the vet to think I was one of those scoundrel pet owners who won’t take out a second mortgage to ensure their furry critter’s total and complete health and happiness. However, I had no problem whatsoever having the vet think Ian was that kind of person. It surprised even me how quickly the words came to my mind and how effortlessly they fell out of my mouth.

Blame is that way. I’ve already written a bit about the topic in my wildly popular pumpkin bread posts, but it’s true. How easy it is to slip in a caveat or whisper an aside that says, “I didn’t do it, don’t blame me.” We blame our baby’s fussiness on teething. We blame our children for ruining our figures. We blame our parents for not providing a good example. We blame our spouses for being cold or mean or unresponsive or too frisky. We blame the weather for our poor grass and the moon for our mood. We shove the buck at work and on the baseball field and in emails. Don’t blame me! I’m not at fault! Someone else did it! As if that’s not bad enough, note, conversely, how defensive we are when we are the target of blame, even when it’s justified.

To wit: Last week I threw a rib out and went in for a chiropractic adjustment. As soon as I left his office, I knew something was wrong. I was far more sore than usual, my neck was burning, and I was having trouble walking straight. First thing the next morning, I went back in and was told my pain was my fault. Perhaps I slept on it funny last night, my chiro conjectured. Perhaps I have an inflammatory disease like lupus that keeps pushing the rib out. Perhaps I have shingles, which often show up in the ribcage. In other words, whatever went wrong, it wasn’t that he made a mistake.

Why is it we hold so tightly onto our egos when blamed for something? Why is defensiveness so often the knee-jerk response whether we’re in the wrong or not? What could we possibly lose if we uttered the simple (yet oh-so-hard-to-say) words, Mea culpa? (And, did you notice how quick I was not only to blame my chiropractor for my pain, but to feature him in this post on the subject?)

The incident with him reminded me of my own blaming attitude that so easily walks into the kitchen, see the undone dishes, and, like the Russian captain in the movie K-19: The Widowmaker, says “Give me a name, I want a name!” Dammit, someone’s got to pay.

Mr. Bates never wanted a name, never demanded vindication, never passed the buck or made excuses. And it wasn’t because he was always innocent; we DA lovers know he has flaws and made mistakes. But we also see in living color example after example of the graciousness that emanates when a person says (when innocent) “It’s nothing, it doesn’t matter.” Or (when guilty), “You’re right, I was wrong.”

Such simple words with such profound consequences. It’s why I’ve decided to adopt a new mantra for all those times I catch my finger in the pointing position:

What would Mr. Bates Do?


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