How is a masterfully crafted and portrayed story like Downton Abbey (currently being aired on PBS Masterpiece Theatre) an analog for today’s down town world scene? Set in an English stately home just before WWI, the story is about the shifting of worldviews from traditional to modern. It uses cracks in the system of land/estate ownership, class and gender to show the tensions of the emerging modern worldview as it grinds on the traditional worldview of estate life, like continental tectonic plates rubbing against each other.
I watch the fascinating portrayal of a time when only males could inherit the estate (and women still had not been granted the vote); when upper and lower classes both had set roles to play in the world; and the world itself was defined by British rule of its colonies and all other countries were merely “foreign” (including the United States whose riches and progeny are impersonated by the lady of the house).
The perspectives expressed in the mouths of the characters are shocking to our modern and post-modern ears. The new modern heir (a professional – a lawyer, disdained for being from a working class) must be taught by the lord of the manor that when he inherits he must consider the jobs of all the servants and how they support families and community – as well as the dignity of the servant him/herself. The servant who wants to better herself by learning shorthand and typing is disdained equally by her peers “below stairs” who scoff at her aspirations to better herself and the old matron above stairs who can’t imagine why someone would want to trade servitude in a beautiful manor for work in a dingy office. We see bicycles and cars as new forms of transportation; electricity as a convenience for selected parts of the house only; and post delivered twice daily as there is not yet telephones available for communication.
Compared to today’s downtown, Downton Abbey paints a picture of a simpler time – which the matron in the story even proposes is much less simple than the time of her youth. But it also resonates with the seismic shifts our daily city life throws up at us. Our shift points are justice and sustainability rather than class and gender. But why that is so, arises from the worldviews that have evolved since the time of Downton Abbey.
Women who can now vote embrace the marginalization of others everywhere in the world, seeking justice for all. In so doing, they have expanded the embrace of care from merely considerations of gender equality to the equality of all human beings. People who have had the vote extended to all adults in the developed countries seek democracy for all peoples of the world. Individuals who can own real estate and wealth anywhere in the developed world want the rights of land ownership for all others in the world. The consideration and constraints of land use itself has expanded from merely “my estate”, to “my community and country” to a view of the earth as the “real” real estate we must all care for. In fact we have even expanded our view of the value of human life beyond our species to seeing it as part of an interconnected ecology of life.
Having moved from the egocentricity of the traditional age into the ethnocentricity of the modern and post-modern age and from there to the worldcentric (and even kosmocentric) age of the integral age, we have progressively expanded the reach of our spheres of influence. Effectively each shift in worldview has embraced more innovation (and thus leveraged more impact), and with that expansion more care (and thus wider compassionate outreach) has also emerged. We are coming to see that innovation and care of others is inextricably linked to care and compassion for ourselves and our planet.
Since the days of Downton Abbey the focal point for these shifts has moved from the privileged family estate to the democratic city. It is particularly in the city, that we sense the grinding of tectonic plates as the worldviews of all previous ages grind against the worldview of the emergent age. It is in our downtowns that we live the necessity of caring for self, others and this place as a principle of city (and earth) life.