5 Lessons America Needs to Learn From A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is not only one of my favorite holiday stories, it's one of my favorite stories period. I've seen it on stage a dozen times. Even played Ebenezer Scrooge myself once in high school. It's the perfect mixture of Christmas magic, winter horror, and moral lesson.
Sadly, the lessons taught to us by A Christmas Carol seem to be lost on a surprising number of Americans in this day and age. As we celebrate what is supposed to be the most giving and reflective range of the calendar, I thought a refresher course might be in order.
5. We Are Responsible for All the World Around Us: Our story opens with a perfectly descriptive scene of our hero, Scrooge. In the course of just a few pages he only grudgingly offers a day off for Christmas to his clerk Bob Cratchit and dismisses two men that come seeking alms for the poor by declaring his entire social obligation fulfilled through his taxes that pay for workhouses and prisons.
It's not until he is taken by the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Future to visit the Cratchit family that the mass and lot of lesser men is brought home to him in a real way. No matter what, the entire fortune of his clerk's family hinges fully on the pittance that Scrooge pays Cratchit. The result is malnutrition and inadequate healthcare. Yet they are grateful for even that.
That is a direct example, but just as Jacob Marley told Scrooge in his visit, "The common welfare should have been my business". Not a man among us is better than the hungriest child we allow to exist in a country overflowing with plenty. Money can buy you distance from their groans, but it can never absolve each of us the responsibility that we owe the day we assume enough means to give more than we take. Too many simply cannot move a single step forward without our help, and to deny that is to admit that the idea of people dying in the streets simply doesn't bother you.
4. Lack of a Safety Net Has Horrible Repercussions Even for the Rich: Scrooge's defining characteristic is the fact that he is a miser. He hoards every single shilling he can, and considers paid time off for a holiday akin to having his pocket picked. Money is dearer to him than even his own comfort.
There's more to it than greed, though. Far more. You have to remember that in the time that Dickens wrote the story there was simply no means for a destitute old person or an incapacitated one to take care of themselves. What you made while working was all you had, especially if you didn't have a family to help and rely on. That's why America took up Social Security in the first place. We had the elderly living in chicken coops.
It's also why you see figures like Scrooge in stories. People of his era knew that what you saved was all that stood between you and the street. That sort of ingrained fear doesn't go away with material success. In fact, it simply increases proportionate to the size of your hoard. Suddenly, you're sitting on a pile of gold still stuck in the mindset that every coin is precious and must be preserved. Paranoid fear becomes miserliness, and costs society any aid from members most able to eliminate the cause of that fear in the first place.
Piece continues on next page.