On the lessons that I wish we could all take away from one of our holiday classics.
In the final moments of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), perhaps the single film that best represents the holiday season for many Americans (including this AmericanStudier), the angel Clarence sums up one version of the final’s ultimate message. “Dear George,” he writes in a book that Jimmy Stewart’s character opens as the film concludes, “Remember no man is a failure who has friends.” Not a bad message at all, particularly in a society that has for so long defined success—and saw in this presidential election a renewed emphasis on such definitions—in direct relationship to wealth. Yes, George Bailey is getting a big bucket of money dumped in front of him at this climactic moment in the film, but that money directly exemplifies his community of friends, and how much they care about him and are willing to support him as he has always supported them. Works for me, Clarence.
But the moment and film also provide at least two other, interconnected but distinct, lessons that I believe we could likewise focus on much more fully. For one thing, the reason George has all those supportive friends is because of what he’s been able to do and mean in his individual life, as a person of integrity who has dedicated his time to doing right by those around him and his community. One reason, to go back to yesterday’s post, why it can be hard for us to feel hope these days is that it can feel so impossible for an individual to make any kind of meaningful difference—but George illustrates that possibiility for sure. And for another thing, despite that individual success George is anything but a self-made man—as the film’s conclusion reflects so perfectly, every individual’s power is ultimately and happily dependent on the communities of which he’s a part; we are thus at our best, individually and collectively, when we all succeed together. To quote another piece of good advice, from my boy Bruce, “Remember, in the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.”
So, AmericanStudies Elves, I wish that all Americans could remember these lessons from one of our most enduring holiday texts. That success is a community of supportive friends; that each of us can make a big difference in those communities and in our nation; and that we’re all in it together. Think that about says it all!
Next wish tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Responses to this wish? Wishes of your own you’d share with the Elves?
Post a Comment