MR. BANKS’ MOST BEFITTING EVOLUTION
G. Gioia Dasovich MA, MS (MHCI)
In this paper I will view the transformation of Mr. George Banks through two theoretical lenses. I am interested in understanding Mr. Bank’s transformation with the use of theories from cognitive behavioral personality theories and existential humanistic views. Mr Banks does undergo a huge transformation but in a sense his core personality remains the same. It changes expression and focus however when his goals and values are undermined by the machine that molded him. He is a loyal, truthful and honest man who knows it is his responsibility to keep his ego in check which is what in the end, allows him to grow emotionally and spiritually. His personality is integral, even if it changes its focus.
In this paper I intend to examine the personality of Mr. George Banks, of the Disney movie Mary Poppins. I will draw from the insight and awareness of the philosophies of two different theoretical perspectives. Cognitive-behavior and existentialist viewpoints attribute different factors to the formation of personality, however in regards to Mr. Banks, each theory offers the other greater depth. I do not intend to explain what personality is, per se, but I will demonstrate that personality is unique, and rich with diversity. Wood, Roberts, & Caspi, (as cited in Schmukle (2011) observed: “Personality traits are stable patterns in each individual and distinguish him or her from other individuals, nevertheless, personality is also subject to change” (p. 862). Therefore, it is appropriate and helpful to examine personality from different perspectives.
Specifically what interests me is, what is it about George Bank’s personality that may have paved the way or contributed to his personality transformation? I will examine this phenomenon from the theoretical perspectives of cognitive/behavioral theory and existential/humanist theory. In this way these two perspectives may help further the understanding of personality by revealing factors which might prove useful in the area of personal change and positive self growth. In my research, definitions for personality all seemed to indicate a consistency in thoughts, feelings, disposition and behavior.
However, personality changes do occur as in the case of Mr. Banks, from the movie Mary Poppins. In a longitudinal twin study Bleidorn (2009) observed that genes and environment can influence change in an individual’s personality. He writes: “change in personality traits can be triggered by contingencies, expectations, and demands of changing roles”. George’s family was drifting apart but in a sense, when he lost his job, his need for satisfaction demanded that he evolve.
The fact that several theoretical perspectives are appropriate when it comes to figuring out what personality is, suggests to me that personality may be a function of perception, and interpretation, as well as a product in part of how an individual codifies his or her experiences. Personality is experienced differently from its owners than it is its onlookers. Friedman & Schustack observed: “the world changes as people’s ideas about it change” (p.288). Additionally, experiences and perceptions adjust to the situations in which they function, and so does personality. “Personality psychology tells us that individuals do indeed differ, and they differ in a number of ways” (p.181). Due to the fact that personality can be seen as a response to internal and external forces of the environment and because of the adaptive nature of personality, I wonder whether its formation is somehow involved with survival drives and species evolution. Interesting too that at any point in an individual’s life, his or her personality becomes a kind of brand, like a role, except that it is not fixed. It can evolve. To this end Friedman & Schustack (2012) have observed: “behavior is seen as resulting from evolved biological structures” (p.180). However, biological processes flow, and are not fixed in time, and neither is personality.
Mr. George Banks works at a bank in the city of London on and around the year 1915. He lives at 17 Cherry Tree Lane with his wife, children, and he employs various domestics. To Mr. Banks, order and productivity go hand in hand. He views himself as an emblem of British decorum. His behavior is modeled by the culture in which he lives. In Mr. Banks, it is easy to see how personality is indeed shaped by the various forces associated with life that an individual experiences. These forces refer to factors of or relating to the psychological, cultural, biological and environmental that almost everyone, including George Banks, experiences though in varying degrees.
Mr. Banks enjoys a concise, orderly and uncluttered house and his experience of self is entwined in these factors. The culture of upper-class English society is exemplified by Mr. George Banks. When the movie Mary Poppins was released, it was the 1960’s. The movie itself takes place just after the turn of the century during the Edwardian period. The character Mr. Banks is a gentleman whose place in society seems to reflect the inner character of his personality. He seems to equate success and order with character and purpose. The better the former the more respectable the later. Of course, our personalities make us uniquely ourselves, and as such we have various views from which we regard or understand the role of personality in an individual’s life.
His self worth is measured by how well he aligns himself with what is expected of him. He behaves as though his inner worth is evidenced by the degree to which he successfully performs and functions his responsibilities. Yet he is out of touch with his family, and as a result for most of the story, the entire household is disconnected.
Mary Poppins’ arrival foretells a change is in the air. Central to this study of Mr. Bank’s personality is the notion that personality is not a fixed trait or phenomenon. Personality evolves, and in the case of Mr. Banks, it evolves admirably. Being open to change may depend on certain factors, as observed by Friedman & Schustack (2012): “People do change …[and they] tend to become more conscientious, less neurotic and somewhat less impulsive and more content [but] there can be significant individual variation depending on one’s friends and life paths” (p.342).
Mr. Bank’s personality is interesting to me because of the complete transformation he undergoes. Behavior reveals beliefs and beliefs are rooted in survival. When his survival is threatened, Mr. Bank’s beliefs and priorities change. In effect, his personality transforms from a model of cognitive style living where cause and effect, and everything in its place exemplify the good life, to an existential humanistic perspective, where order represents a trivial life if it is not accompanied by other factors such as purpose, love and family. http://psycnet.apa.org/books/11476/012 Thus it is appropriate to divide the evolution of his transformation into two phases. Also, his locus of control shifts from external to internal. He is at first obedient, always doing what he has learned is befitting a man of his stature. He is “precisely on schedule” (ch. 4). Here, his locus of control is external. Later, George’s locus of control evolves internally, and he learns to listen to his heart and conscience.
In the beginning of the story, Mr. Banks is so preoccupied with orderliness, and rules that he fails to see the resultant discontinuity and splintering of his family. He is so preoccupied with things running smoothly, he cannot see how just beneath the surface the foundation is developing cracks. In one of the first scenes of the movie his two children Jane and Michael get lost from wandering off in the park. Their nanny quits because her authority is not acknowledged. His wife Winfred is caught up in the political world, even if the Suffragette Movement she is involved with is a noble one, the children have no direction, and she fails to “mold the breed” (Mary Poppins). Even the piano is not tuned, so its potential music is skewed.
Cognitive approaches to personality view perception and cognition as central to what it means to be a person. Friedman & Schustack (2012) observed: “The way that people interpret their environments, especially their social milieu, is central to their humanness, and the ways in which people differ from one another in how they do this is seen as central to their individuality” (p.214). Cognitive psychological theory suggests that the experience of internal conflict will contribute to negative feelings such as dissatisfaction and unease. DeYoung(2010) observed: In such a system, te constructs represent integrated, interacting psychological mechanisms that cause the ongoing flux of behavior and experience; and the adaptive function of the system as a whole is to allow the organism to survive and fulfill its needs” (p.26).
Examining George Bank’s personality at the beginning of the movie through a cognitive-behavioral lens is appropriate. Nothing is provided of his childhood, biology or his past experiences. Banks himself is primarily motivated by learned acceptable behaviors such as orderliness, and efficiency, and he is very much in the present tense. George Banks even uses a lot of self talk in the movie, which is a tool in the world of Cognitive theory.
At the beginning of the story these qualities are a means to an end for Mr Banks, who is a bit obsessive-compulsive in that his preoccupation with order and productivity extends to the detriment of his family’s unity. Obsessive-compulsive traits in personality are associated with rigidity but something happens that pulls George Banks away from his patterns, and in so doing his personality transforms to experience a deeper, fuller understanding of life, love and family.
On the surface orderliness and timeliness have been his cornerstone and his strength. However just beneath, one senses a crack in the foundation as George Banks does seem occasionally to long for an unrealized greater purpose. For example George discovered by chance that the living room piano was not properly tuned. This prompted him to ask his wife why it was not, and requested that she arrange to have it tuned. To this, Winfred, his wife replied: “But George, you don’t play”. George responded: “That my dear is entirely besides the point!”.
Additionally, one of the songs he happily sings describes the hallmarks of the proper British home: orderliness, functionality, dinner precisely at 6:02, and efficiency. The last line of the song is: “How lordly is the life I lead”. Interesting that in the movie, every time he sings this song, or the orchestra plays its melody something drastic happens, (exploding cannons, shifting winds or even the arrival of a magical nanny). It is as if to foreshadow something unforeseen happening on Cherry Tree Lane.
The character of Mr. Banks is a gentleman whose place in society seems to reflect the inner fiber of his personality. George Banks is likable, loyal, hard working and highly respectable. He enjoys an upper-class lifestyle. He seems to equate success and order with character and purpose, and feels great pride in having both. In fact at the start of the movie he indicates that the better the former the more respectable the later.
Mr Banks is a loving man who is devoted to maintaining good form, he is driven by a need to not only be able to provide for his family, and be model citizen, but to be seen in that capacity as well. the measure of his self worth is how well he aligns himself with what is expected of him. He behaves as though his inner worth is evidenced by the degree to which he successfully performs and functions.
Cognitive-behavior theory leans towards task oriented interventions involving something that can be manipulated, such as a piano. Banks doesn’t discover that anything is amiss until he tries to play the piano. In the beginning of the movie he is task and performance oriented. Cognitive psychological theory suggests that the experience of internal conflict will contribute to negative feelings such as dissatisfaction and unease. Examining George Bank’s personality through a cognitive-behavioral lens is appropriate because nothing is provided of his childhood, biology or his past experiences.
Banks himself is primarily motivated by learned acceptable behaviors such as orderliness, and efficiency. “Cognitive approaches to personality view perception and cognition as central to what it means to be a person. The way that people interpret their environments, especially their social milieu, is seen as central to their humanness, and the ways in which people differ from one another in how they do this is seen as central to their individuality” (p.214). Another factor that influences behavior and perception is locus of control (Friedman & Schustack, 2012). Individuals with an internal locus of control are more likely to assume responsibility for their actions and thoughts. An internal locus of control allows the individual to actively take charge of his or her life. In effect, as DeYoung (2010) observed: “affect can be overridden for the sake of goals” and change in personality from an external locus of control to an internal locus of control can occur due to major life events. When George takes control of his life and chooses to enjoy the love of his family, his personality changes from an external locus to an internal locus of control. Friedman & Schustack (2012) observed: “A good way to change personality is straightforward: take control of your life” (p.241).
Existential psychotherapy is a dynamic approach to therapy. What that means is the focus is on concerns that are rooted in the individual’s existence. Once George takes control of his life his goals, values and belief system have already been challenged because they no longer serve the same purpose. One day George brings his children to the bank where he works. After trying several times to get his son Michael to give up his tuppence, the boy calls out objecting, and causes a panic in the bank. The result is there is a run on the bank, and consequently George Banks loses his position. From an existentialist perspective this is the life changing action or intervention which prompts him to clarify his values and gives him the gift of self-awareness, which leads to conscious choice.Thus begins the change in his life and his new path.
The psychodynamics of an individual include the various unconscious and conscious forces, motives, and fears that operate within him or her. According to Yaloom (1980), “existential therapy is based on a radically different view of the specific forces, motives and fears that interact in the individual” (p.7). The existential lens would never see George Banks as his thoughts and beliefs. It views him without his attachments and empowers him by acknowledging that he alone is the creator of who he is. During the period right after Mr. Banks is called in to the bank to hear his fate, Bert, the Chimney sweep, comforts Mr. Banks in an uncharacteristic moment (as normally Mr Banks would never take the advice of a chimney sweep). The sweep tells him: “Broaden your horizon, open different doors, you may find a you there, that you never knew was yours!”. With the gift of awareness comes the choice to be authentic. His sense of being, purpose, and honor are empowered by losing his attachment to an old belief system that was not working. His old system failed to validate him but the supportive environment of his family did give him purpose.
The existentialist is interested in the kind of conflict an individual experiences as a result of confronting existence itself. Yalom (1980) observed: “certain intrinsic properties are a part and an inescapable part, of the human being’s existence” (p.8). Death, meaninglessness,freedom and isolation are usually typical of existential themes and, or conflicts. Freedom is the lack of external structure. The individual is responsible for his or her own decisions, and actions. The clash is between the sense that there is no inherent design and a desire for structure. The fact of death causes the conflict between the desire to continue to be and the inevitable end of being. The truth is the essential conflict here. Another factor of concern in the existentialist’s lens is isolation. This is the unbridgeable gap systemic to life in the physical universe. (note: collective unconscious, universal traits) The existential conflict lies in the fact that we perceive the world from one consciousness, yet we long to belong to a greater unity.
At the end of the movie George happily walks off with his family to the park to go fly a kite he spent the previous night repairing. While at the park where they meet up with his old bosses who are coincidentally also flying kites.I see George Bank’s evolution as a positive because of the quality of the consequences that result. He is very happy, his family is reunited and his children are happy, and he even gets rehired with a promotion! It is like an existential affirmation.
Cognitive psychological theory suggests that the experience of internal conflict will contribute to negative feelings such as dissatisfaction and unease. Examining George Bank’s personality (before losing his job at the bank) through a cognitive-behavioral lens is appropriate because his childhood, biology or his past experiences are not emphasized. Banks himself is primarily motivated by learned acceptable traditional English behaviors such as orderliness, and efficiency. It is when these methods no longer support his overall attitudes that he is forced to look at and re-evaluate his values and drives. What meaning does life have? Is there a purpose to our individual life experiences? How does one find meaning in a world that seems so random?
One of the ways Existentialist personality theory is appropriate at the point where he loses his job, is he is put in a situation where he is forced question his entire life’s purpose. His traditional English values, his entire worldview no longer seemed to support him, and so he experienced dissatisfaction. Existentialist personality theory is concerned with concepts such as meaning and purpose and these are the heart of its philosophy and inquiries. Hoare (2009) observed: “The sense of self as a spiritual being is a necessary compatriot of adult vitality and of the ethical that is encased in a mature identity. The ego holds the self together, and later the spiritual and the ethical become the core that holds the “I” together” (p.188).
To date, there does not seem to be any one simple way to characterize personality. Gergen (as cited in Friedman & Schustack, 2012) asserted: “Being open to different assumptions about human nature can expand theoretical potentials as well as facilitate discovery of problems with entrenched assumptions” (p.476). Personality seems to be largely governed by the lens through which the individual’s world is perceived. To the cognitive theorist, perception determines everything for the individual. It is the point from which all else springs. The existential perspective is not as concerned about function as it is meaning and purpose.
This study of George Bank’s personality from the two different perspectives of cognitive-behavior and existential-humanist is fitting because of the change he undergoes in the story. Values change over the life-span (DeYoung, 2010) and evolve to meet the needs of the individual.
This view is perhaps a simplification but personality is complicated by internal and external factors, and it is unique to the individual’s cognition. I am by no means implying that with youth there is no consideration for meaning and purpose. I am attempting to demonstrate that when an individual is forced to re-evaluate his or her life path, the existential perspective can be useful in understanding how choice is governed by the need for self-satisfaction and acknowledgment. An adaptive view of personality is appropriate I think also because it follows the adaptive nature of survival and life. As an individual ages, goals become relatively complex. Perhaps it is the result of moving from reward seeking drives which are function based to reward drives that are heartfelt.
Existential perspectives provide a means to understanding the need for self esteem and hope. In time, and by examining George’s emotional history, he might be able to integrate old emotional responses with a new sense of purpose.This approach in his later life is appropriate because it sheds light on his need to be more involved in his life and because it emphasizes the need to develop coping skills that are appropriate to current wellbeing. He could benefit from seeing the connections and patterns between past and present emotional circumstances. As his perceptions turn inward, his ability to unravel and reweave his life increases along with the development of mature strong skills that will affect his true goals and interpersonal relationships.
I admire the character george Banks even more now, after writing this paper. While his devotion to decorum blinded him to the needs of his family, that devotion also shaped his personality to be resilient, and to be brave enough to be open to positive change. He may have been somewhat misguided in the beginning, but his integrity remained intact throughout in that he always remained true to his values. I think what gives his personality lasting integrity is his ability to adapt.
The love his gets in touch with after his transformation has always been his but he seemed to tell himself the best way to express it is by providing a safe, reliable household for his family. I think in the beginning the emphasis was on the providing and at the end his main strength came from experiencing the love and support of his family.
Personality is not an easy concept to define. Friedman & Schustack (2012) observed: “personality psychology [is] the scientific study of the psychological forces that make people uniquely themselves (p.2). It has been suggested in our course text that the study of personality may benefit from the science of statistics and correlations. some believe in the inductive approach, but there probably is no one right approach.
Personality is fluid and responds to several factors, from life changing to environmental. Instead of trying to pin down the phenomenon of personality, personality tends to view its characteristics through eight different viewpoints. In this paper I focused on the theories of two of them: Cognitive-Behavioral, and Existential-Humanist. As people change and evolve, so must our use of the theories by which we model our techniques and strive to gain understanding and insight into the many aspects of what we call personality.
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