Sense and Sensibility Common Sense: A Life Coach on Austen

Part 1 (9:36) | Part 2 (9:12)

Hi this is Cheryl Richardson. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my work, I am a life coach and I have been working with people since the early '90s, helping them to improve the quality of their lives in some way. And over the years, I've written several books that capture the journey that I take people on to help them make the kind of changes that will allow them to honor their values and their most treasured priorities. And I was very excited that Masterpiece had invited me to speak to you about a wonderful film, Sense and Sensibility, a film that I absolutely adore, and how it relates to modern day life. You know, what is some of the wisdom that we can take from Sense and Sensibility and use it, apply it to our lives today. And there is a lot of wisdom here.

So in this section, I want to talk about the characters in the film and how they are mirrors for either parts of ourselves that we express in the world or the parts that we keep hidden and may long to express. And a couple of the plot themes that I think are really important and we'll get to those in just a moment.

So there are some luscious characters in this film. Really terrific characters that say a lot about our human qualities. And one of the things that I always like to do when I'm watching a character driven film, and Austen's work is all about character driven story lines, is I like to look at who are the characters that I identify with the most.

Who are the ones that stand out to me who I long to be like, that express the kinds of things that I wish I could express. Who are the characters that drive me crazy, that make me want to scream? All of those characters that allow us to have any kind of strong reactions are characters that are trying to tell us something about ourselves. So I invite you as you look at part two of the film to ask yourself the same question. Who do you identify with and why? Who do you wish you were more like?

So for example, when I first watched the film, I have to say that I identified with Elinor as the kind of first-born savior child who was fairly contained, knew how to manage her emotions well, the dutiful daughter who stepped up to the plate and did whatever needed to be done. And I identified a little bit with Mrs. Dashwood, probably with her closed mouth, which kind of bothered me a little bit. As I watched that I thought, "I can kind of identify with that" and it begs the question -- Where do I need to speak up more in my life? But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So I could identify with Elinor, but I was really drawn to Marianne, to her romantic way of looking at life -- her carefree ways. her boldness. You know, she is more of a risk taker. She is less contained than her mother and her older sister. She loves life, she lusts after life, and she is willing to just throw caution to the wind and do whatever she needs to do. Of course, she pays a little bit of a price for that. But you know what? As I watched the film I thought, I wouldn't mind erring on that side. You know, when we learn to develop the skills to trust ourselves to handle anything, we then allow ourselves to take more risks in life.

So yes, I could identify with Elinor, I wanted to be more like Marianne, and when I grow up, when I'm older, I want to be like Uncle John and Mrs. Jennings. They are just so beautifully alive and jovial and relationship focused. You know, they really get the value of relationships and I love that about them. So I identified with Elinor, and found that that character is the character that I express freely in my life. But the hidden qualities in me that Marianne reflects as I watch the film are the parts of me that I'd like to bring more to my life.

So I would ask you -- Who do you identify with? Which character are you like? What are the benefits of that character, what are the costs of that character? And then which character represents a side of you that you would really long to express more in your life?

And of course when I look at the characters I also can't help but talk about the men for a moment. OK, can I do that? Let me first say that I would marry Edward any day. Now I am married, so I have to say that as a disclaimer because my husband Michael would kill me. But Edward, not only is he so handsome and beautiful, especially that wood cutting scene, but there is something genuine. When you look into his eyes, you see an authenticity that you don't see in some of the other male characters. Of course, you see an intensity and a sort of industriousness in Colonel Brandon's eyes, but there is something about Edward's eyes when you look into his eyes you just feel like, "OK, yup, I would not kick you out of my house!" And then Willoughby -- all right, who hasn't fallen in love or in lust with the bad boy, right? The beauty of Willoughby is he allows us to express our dark side, which is an important part as well, but at some point, you go near that fire and you end up getting burned, and poor Marianne has had that experience.

A couple of plot themes. Here is a really important one. One of the things we see happen in Sense and Sensibility, and we start to see the resolution of it in the second part, is how often we fall in love with two things - either someone's potential instead of the reality of what is, we fall in love with their potential, what we imagine they could be, and how often we fall in love in life with the dream of what could be instead of the reality of what is. Marianne, of course, falls in love with Willoughby, the bad boy, and the potential that she sees for this. You know, she falls in love really with the mirror of herself, that wild abandon self that just loves life but she doesn't recognize that there is there is a darker side to that could get her into trouble.

So how often do you fall in love with the dream of what could be instead of the reality of what is? And that can apply to our relationships, but it also can apply to situations in our life. I think that is an important question to ask: Are you in love with someone's potential right now or are you seeing that person for who they really are?

And the other important theme or plot point that is critical, that runs through the whole film, is truth telling as central to a well lived life. And here comes a conversation about a character that I haven't said much about, and that you don't really notice until you watch it for the second time, and that is the little girl. Margaret is the amazing truth teller through the whole film. And it really reflects the innocence of a child. You know, the child who hasn't been marred by the painful situations of life that cause us to create a false sense of self or the masks that we wear in life. Instead, she is pure and she is innocent and she can't sit at the dining room table without speaking the truth of what is going on in that situation. She tells the truth to her mother and her sisters throughout the film. Just watch her as the little bearer of truth who says what nobody else says in the film. And I think that we have a lot to learn from her, the innocence of her, as a child.

You know, in modern day life, what gets us into trouble is when we keep our mouths shut. And as I always say to clients, probably the most important skill I've developed as a coach is the ability to create a safe place for people to tell the truth about their lives. Because when you can tell the truth then change can begin to occur. Most of us repress our emotions. We hold in our anger, we hold in our fear, we hold in our pain. We don't speak the truth. And, you know, that truth has to come out one way or another and eventually it does. It is beautifully resolved in the film in a great way because Elinor suddenly gets the knight in shining armor and they go off to live happily ever after but that is not real life, and there is a cost to not telling the truth.

And so, you can just simply stop and ask yourself right now, "Where am I not being honest in my life? Where do I need to tell the truth maybe about a relationship that isn't quite what I need it to be? Where am I not speaking up about what I want or what I need? Where am I pretending that everything is OK when it's really not OK?" It could be something as dramatic as, "I'm living in the cold weather, and I really, my soul wants to be in the warm weather." It could be, "I'm working for a company where I have to check my values at the door every day and I just can't keep doing that." A truly honorable life is a life based on truth, not on managing the perception of others, not on taking care of others needs at the cost of yourself, not at trying to keep the peace.

So as I wrap up, I hope you really enjoy the film. I hope you do watch it two or three times because you will get so much out of it. So as one passionate lover of Jane Austen's work to another, and as a big fan of Sense and Sensibility, I hope you enjoy this film as much as I did. Thanks so much.

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