What can we do about climate change and social dislocation? The simple answer is we do not change it. We simply change us. We live the emotionally intelligent way and through that we effect change on a larger scale. We ‘act local but think global’, the brilliant slogan that encapsulated the way to change lives and communities. Why is it that we have problems like the third world shortage of food and the increase in obesity at the same time? It is almost as if it has been preordained as the solution to each is the other. By buying less, making more, living local, being generous and connecting with our neighbours we will find happiness. It is a message that permeates Jane Austen’s life and the Austen Six. It makes her, at least for me, a very modern secular philosopher.
To look at these modern dilemmas we can gaze again at the Dashwoods, Childlike-Mrs Dashwood, Responsible-Elder-Sister-Elinor and Spontaneous-and-Sentimental Marianne from Sense and Sensibility. They are left homeless when Mr Dashwood dies. They have a small income and through a family connection they rent an unassuming cottage. They must live a much reduced lifestyle compared to the one they had previously lived. But to their surprise they find that their life had not changed as much as they had expected. This was because their past-times stayed the same. They maintained social contact with friends and neighbours, and participated in the life of the mind by continuing to read. They exercised, enjoyed the landscape and visited others. The fact that they were no longer living in a mansion must have rankled but on the whole they were surprised that once they found comfort, “The house and the garden, with all the objects surrounding them, were now become familiar; and the ordinary pursuits which had given to Norland half its charms were engaged in again with far greater enjoyment than Norland had been able to afford since the loss of their father.” Perhaps we can get by on a little less than we think!
At Barton Cottage the Dashwoods find that they are happier than they had expected to be, despite the downsizing. Why is this so? To start with they spend their days pretty much the same as they did at Norland. The “ordinary pursuits” are conducted much the same as they had at Norland. What these ordinary pursuits means were not clear but we can guess: housekeeping duties would be one important pursuit. No doubt Mrs Dashwood would see to most of this with the assistance of her eldest daughter.The family had brought three servants with them, (two for inside and one for outside) which to us would seem to leave little for the ladies to do, but this was not the case. The washing, cleaning, sewing, making the beds, laying the fires, and the cooking all had to be done from first principles and would need organising and overseeing.
Mrs Dashwood is fortunate in having her landlord and neighbour for he is a social facilitator. Lord Middleton and his vacuous wife have a downside; he cannot bear to be alone but must invite the Dashwoods for every possible occasion. Indeed, Marianne is annoyed that they are forever being asked to the Middletons, “The rent of this cottage is said to be low; but we have it on very hard terms, if we are to dine at the park whenever anyone is staying either with them, or with us.” But Lord Middleton plays a very important role: connecting others and making a community. This is one of the most important ingredients in a happy life. There needs to be people like Lord Middleton who play the role of connector and social lubricator. It is his generous hospitality that facilitates what for the Dashwoods was a very precarious move from one region to another.
And it is the ordinary pursuits that bring back happiness. Could such a simple thing be the answer to climate change and social dislocation?