What’s New: Utility
By: David New
Our days are made up of things we do because we must and things we do because we want to. Sometimes these things coincide. Those that are fortunate enough to have a career doing something they are passionate about have a more blurred vision on where the line between utility and pleasure lies.
Recently my wife and I watched Pride and Prejudice, the first movie we watched together as a couple through the wonder of FaceTime. It’s a memory I hold close to my heart. If either one of our screens buffered for even a moment, the following minutes were then spent trying to realign where we were as to stay in sync. Perhaps that’s the reason why the movie this time felt so different. I was able to watch it like a normal person instead of staring at my then girlfriend’s face the entire time. To my surprise, the two characters I enjoyed the most were the father and, controversially, the mother. Their dynamic is so fascinating. They both have the best interests for their many daughters in mind, yet their outlooks on the world and what they believe makes life worth living differ greatly.
I have no idea what it’s like to live life as a teenage woman in rural England during the turn of the 19th century. And there will be no attempt given to relate to it. If anything, watching the mother and father interact and make decisions was much more interesting. If you don’t know, the story follows the journey of a family without a male heir, meaning that their four daughters won’t have a way to claim any of the family’s wealth when the father passes—unless they marry before then. And while both parents are keen to find a solution, they are on completely different pages (book pun).
It’s easy to demonize the mother in this story. She couldn’t care less who her daughters marry as long as he has some money and isn’t a complete and total psychopath. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean much to someone looking for a partner to fall in love with.
I can’t label either of them right or wrong. In the end, it’s what you value that determines the decisions you make. What is life without love or joy? On the other hand, a roof over your head and food on your plate is something most people would fight their entire lives for. Yet, when the main character, Elizabeth, finds a potential husband that would give her a suitable life, she turns it down. Her mother, incensed, can’t comprehend how her daughter could be so immature and selfish. Yet, the father is not only empathetic to her decision, but even encourages her rebellious search for true love, at the cost of risking the family’s wellbeing.
It’s always a risk being a romantic, especially in a time where marriage is more a utility than an expression of love. One missed opportunity to wed, and you could find yourself homeless with only a last name of a family devoid of any value. This is where the parents disagree.
What do you value? This is a question we should consistently be asking ourselves. What does life look like for someone who can’t afford the opportunity to even ask themselves this question?
I remember asking my mom when I was younger why The Salvation Army cared so much about helping people not only spiritually but also physically. Why spend resources and effort on something with only earthly value? Surely the Army should focus completely on spreading the gospel. We are told all our lives that there is nothing more important. Her response was short. “Well, if you didn’t know where your next meal was coming from, would you listen to some guy preaching to you?” We help those who lack, praying that eventually they gain the capacity to hope and believe.
It’s important that we understand why the mother in the story acted the way she did. I can’t imagine a life filled with the worry that my own children could end up with nothing. I would do everything I could to ensure that didn’t happen, even if some things had to be sacrificed. The thing I would value most is the physical wellbeing of my kids. But to the father, that wasn’t enough.
This story is, essentially, a fairytale. The daughter, Elizabeth, did find love. But I can’t help but ask the question, was that a risk she should’ve taken? And was it a risk her father should have allowed?
It’s a risk making the decision to help someone. It’s a risk passing up on a perfectly fine opportunity in the hopes of something greater. Yet we make those decisions every day. Our lives are filled with utility, things we do because we simply must. Going to work, sleeping, doing laundry, the list goes on. In the end, those tasks shouldn’t hold us back from pursuing or valuing the things we love. Instead, we should recognize their importance, and still hope and work for the things that make life as a Christian fulfilling. They go hand in hand with each other. A life of theologically meaningless tasks isn’t enough. But a life filled with hypothetical intellectual love isn’t either. We are both physical and spiritual beings. Find your balance.