Matthew Crawley became heir to Downton Abbey and the its title quite suddenly and unexpectedly when the former heir died on the Titanic.
Crawley, a country lawyer by trade, had never known the kind of life lived at Downton Abbey. On the outside it seemed like a life of pointless privilege and unnecessary trappings.
When he first arrived, Matthew refused to let anybody help him do in anything. He had no use for the maids, the footmen, but he especially eschewed his valet. When his valet tried to dress him, Matthew wouldn’t allow it. When the valet tried to offer assistance in picking out a pair of cuff-links, Matthew dismissed the notion and his valet as silly. The valet felt useless and the pain of such dismissal was obvious on his face.
Matthew was simpler and he was proud of that simplicity. He had never needed anyone to help him dress before and he didn’t see why he would need one now. And the clothing, ugh, the clothing. Matthew much preferred his plain ol’ suit to tuxedos and tails. His initial instinct was that all these accoutrements and formality was mere flash and frippery and he would quickly dispense with it all.
Yet, Lord Grantham counseled him that while all this grand tradition might seem purposeless, it was not. He explained to Matthew that these traditions meant something, not only to the people blandished upon, but to the people who provided the service and to others as well. Lord Grantham explained to Matthew that when he dismissed it all as useless, he was dismissing the value of lives and livelihoods spent learning the craft and the legitimate pride taken in hard work and diligence. He suggested that the service of the servants served not only their masters.
Over time, Matthew began to realize that their was some truth in Lord Grantham’s words and being a kind and considerate man, he pondered it. Perhaps his insistence on simplicity was just another form of pride? Perhaps in accepting his new role, the truly humble thing to do was forgo his preference for simplicity, self-reliance, and plainness? In accepting his new role, he had a responsibility to others for whom these things meant a great deal.
And so, in an act of humility and kindness, Matthew asked his valet to help him dress and said, “Would you be so kind as to pick me out a pair of cuff-links.” The valet smiled from ear to ear. Good Matthew had never been so humble and so self-effacing as when he accepted the assistance and adornments expected of his new role.
Matthew learned that simplicity is not always humility and pomp not always pride.
As the coming weeks and months unfold, we would all do well keep this lesson in mind.