The Role and Significance of Kindness
I believe the kindnesses displayed by the three major female characters outlined above (Part II) play an essentially transformative role for ME’s character and the story line, allowing Martin to reject and transcend his past in order to accept his future. Kindness begets kindness (or so said Sophocles). It transforms the arena where it is revealed, and it transforms the doer. It keeps us grounded in who we naturally are and it serves as a reminder to those unkind among us, to return to what was once their natural state. (Recall that the root of kindness is from Old English “natural,” something “innate”. Recall Elwood P. Dowd’s comments on overcoming time and space and life’s obstacles to reach a new reality, by being kind. (Part I))
In S2, E6, Martin’s parents appear in the show for the first time. They have arrived to suck out the half-share of the family farm Martin’s father Christopher wants to lay claim to. Joan, who cannot buy him out and will have to leave the farm, is in despair. It is in this episode that Martin’s mother Margaret informs her son that he is the problem, and that “40 years of my life was wasted because of you.” Delivered in a matter-of-fact tone, this is probably the most devastatingly cruel and unkind remark made in the entire show. No child should ever have to hear it. Yet Martin takes it stoically. Says nothing.
When Margaret returns alone to Portwenn in S6 E6, she announces Christopher Ellingham’s death. Margaret tries to manipulate Martin claiming his father loved him but couldn’t tell him. In that same episode, she feigns contrition and says she wishes to make amends with him, as “we are all the family we have left.”
Martin decides to stand up to Margaret, and taking James in his arms replies, “I have a family. I have a wife, and I have a son, and I have Ruth .” What he is saying here is that he has decided that what he wants is the genuine family he has been rejecting through Series 6 (subconsciously), not the birth family he’s had. He is saying he is ready, finally, to move out of his comfort zone and accept the sticky emotional ties of wife and child and aunt and all that that has to offer in unconditional love and emotional affection. He may also know too, at some level, that choosing to love them, he will no longer “be in the way” or a “problem,” as Margaret told him he was for her, since his birth. (S2 S6.)
By S6 E7, the sports day scene has occurred and Louisa has had her car crash. By S6 E8, Margaret is forced to depart after Martin refuses to give her any money and tells her he doesn’t want to see her anymore. In the face of Martin’s dismissal of her, Margaret makes off with Martin’s valuable clock, the only way she will ever extract any money from him. Louisa confronts her in the airport and reinforces (in her own way) Martin’s insight that Margaret is not good for Martin and she is not the “family” he wants.
Over several episodes, here in these moments of rejecting his mother, he is choosing to reject his family of birth, choosing to leave hate, selfishness, rancor, manipulation and unkindness, and to acknowledge that these were his birth family’s attributes. Finally realizing the depths of his mother’s narcissism, her conniving and dishonest ways, her unkindness, he now sees the differences clearly. He sees the hatred his own childhood was steeped in, and in those scenes, he chooses instead its opposite: love, care, kindness, generosity.
Those scenes with his mother (S6 E6, E7, E8) bring full circle the metaphor of the women-of-kindness in this show, and close out the cruelty of his upbringing, the manipulative narcissism of his mother and the cold disdain of his absent father. In these encounters, he is showing that he has found the courage and strength he needs to acknowledge his past and change himself in order to keep his family of choice. I believe the source of courage and strength Martin finds comes from the three kind women he prefers over his mother.
The role of kindness exhibited especially by the three women, shows Martin a different way of being in the world, one that while risky, not so “secure,” and definitely outside his comfort zone, is also a world that can contain love and affection, providing an emotional and psychological “safety” he has never known.
Santa wrote in her October 28 post that she believed Martin is attracted to Louisa because she has parts of what he is missing. She referred to Martin’s interest in Louisa as a longing for that “split-off part of him” that is gone or buried. Santa wrote: “The essence of Louisa is that high level of emotion that is the antithesis of Martin’s way of being in the world… at bottom, she seems to be a deeply loving person…I’m pretty sure that is a large part of what draws Martin to her.”
On one level, being emotionally able to be socially kind is a part of himself that he is “missing”—or that he may yearn for (subconsciously). That is, the openly generous, affectionate side of himself Aunt Ruth described that he had as a little boy, but now replaced by gruffness and minimalist, shut-down behaviors. But on another level, that quality of gruffness and off-putting behavior masks a deeper gap that goes to the heart of his problem: an inability to be close and intimate with another.
By aligning himself with Louisa and the Aunts, he is seeking and finding a way to return to it. Perhaps his special attraction to Louisa is to find/absorb/re-learn an aspect of himself that has been part of the split-off side of Martin—the “authentic self” that Santa talks about. By modeling the way Martin wants or might prefer to be in the world (if he could only learn), Louisa’s warmth and emotional generosity, along with the Aunt’s kindnesses, act as transformative agents to regenerate some of his missing parts.
And internalizing some of all three women’s kindnesses towards him, he has come to know some emotional and psychological safety. He has suppressed and buried his ability to show kindness to protect himself from psychological danger and pain, but now he is realizing that it will be safe to exhume it.
Kindness is one of the big roadmaps Martin needs to follow to help him return to his original self. In those scenes where he rejects and ejects his mother, he is preparing himself to make the relationship with Louisa work. To do what he must do to acquire the tools he needs to be in full community with the new family he has made.
As referenced earlier, Aunt Ruth says that Martin was not unkind or un-affectionate to begin with, but rather the opposite as a child. Ruth’s stern and amazing lecture chastising Margaret in the café (S6 E7), makes clear Ruth’s convictions that Margaret has emotionally pummeled and psychologically brutalized her son by pushing him as far away as she could. Ruth’s analysis is that Martin’s defense against that rejection was to put up barriers. To let them go, he must believe in a new reality. He must overcome the old reality. The main female characters he embraces as an adult are truly opposite from his parents, and it is through them that he comes to know that his barriers are no longer necessary with those who genuinely and honestly love him now.
I think the point of their kindness in this TV series is to help Martin return to his own natural state of kindness, sensitivity, generosity—the qualities that Aunt Ruth has described in him as being lost long ago, even by age 6. These qualities would increase his capacity for an “authentic” life based on the beloved community.
I tried to think of another quality that might have been so effective in helping Martin make a transition to fully accepting Louisa’s love, being less defensive and resistant to affection, and more easy in his own skin. I could not think of an alternative.
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A Revolution in Kindness
About ten years ago, a book came out called A Revolution in Kindness. It was a collection of essays, quotes and questions by 180 contributors about what a society based on kindness might look like. For example, what would the world look like if people were kinder to nature, the environment, to animals? What would our health care system be like if it were kinder? Or if businesses were required to be kind? What if politicians and leaders were bound by kindness? Or industry in product safety, or parents towards their children? The list was endless. On the back cover was a quote from Kahil Gibran:
Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.
WORLD KINDNESS DAY: BECAUSE IT’S COOL TO BE KIND
Originally posted 2014-11-13 11:54:38.