As we near the end of yet another decade—it is hard to believe that 72 years have passed since the creation of the heartwarming movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. If you have somehow not seen this movie, I strongly suggest incorporating it into your holiday family festivities. This heartwarming story centers on a frustrated (yet benevolent) businessman that is at the end of his rope when an angel is sent to him from heaven to show him what life would have been like if he had never been born—a thought that has likely passed through everyone’s mind at one time or another. Frank Capra’s classic tale presents a set of values that still resonate within both personal and professional relationships.
I watched it last night and teared up at the end as I have for nearly 50 years.
There are more than a few tremendous lessons that can be extracted from the interaction between George Bailey (and Jimmy Stewart for that matter) and Clarence the angel.
Life has more value when you are serving something bigger than yourself.
George Bailey is part of Bedford Falls. Indeed, as Clarence shows him, George Bailey is Bedford Falls. From local businessman to community organizer, from confidante to husband and father, George Bailey is actively part of his community. In a dark moment, feeling like a failure he is given a great gift—to see how many lives he saved and people he touched in doing the right thing. The book The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom expresses that same sentiment in a creative way. We are all part of something bigger, and our next right action could have a profound impact on the life of someone you may never know. Do the right thing anyway.
Embrace your team, your customers and your friends.
When times get tight and scary, Bailey really needed his co-workers, customers and friends to come to his rescue and they were more than willing given his generosity toward them during this life. Kindness and leadership go hand in hand. Humbly asking for help is a leadership skill that is often overlooked. Treating team members, family and clients well has long-term benefits and is of course simply the right thing to do.
Pride in your country and the great state of Tennessee is a good thing.
George Bailey is proud to be a small-town American. He’s proud his little brother saved a whole troop carrier from a kamikaze attack. While he might not have gone overseas to fight World War II, he “fought the Battle of Bedford Falls,” doing all the thankless but necessary work needed on the home front, be it paper and rubber collection or blackout warden. He epitomizes the American voluntary spirit. In Middle Tennessee we are part of a tremendous giving community. Whether it’s a refugee cause, the homeless, a flood, or supporting our troops, people genuinely seem to understand that we live in an amazing place that is worth protecting.
Sacrifice is necessary to build a company and see a dream to fruition.
After years of “focusing on me,” does American society look better for prompting the theme “never relinquish your dreams”? George Bailey relinquished a lot of dreams, but never his character or his core principles. Maybe he didn’t build that skyscraper or lasso the moon. Sure, he was tempted to take that job with Mr. Potter. Do you realize what $20,000 a year meant at that time? What George built had a lot more value, even if it didn’t bring he or his family a fast return. But what he offered his customers was profound—pride, hope, and a real home. “Bread … that this house may never know hunger. And wine … that joy and prosperity may reign forever.” George led his family to give to others and to celebrate the success of others—part of a tremendous spirit of team-building.
Love matters most of all.
George Bailey may not have fulfilled his dream to “go places and do things,” but marrying Mary was his destiny. We’ve all been there when children are whining, bills are piling up, and the stress of the holidays can push us over the edge. At the end of the day, what matters most are the ones we love, our family. As we grow older, it matters even more as parents need our help and children less so. Creating time to call, to visit and to say, “I love you,” matters so much more than material things. These are eternal things, as children follow in the footsteps of their parents’ and grandparents’ example into a future that we may not see.
Life is sacred.
The whole film opens not on earth but in heaven, just as a man is considering “throwing away God’s greatest gift”—his life. Sadly, the holidays are for many a time of utter despair—a time when reflection can quickly turn to self-comparison and hopelessness. Yes, many families are nothing like George Bailey’s. With modern problems such as divorce, addiction, economic downturns, and the threat of terrorism on our doorstep, it’s easy to want to take the easy way out of life’s problems. The easy thing, the thing that helps us to just forget, is rarely the best thing for our families or ourselves. Yes, we have to take time to relax, take care of ourselves, but it’s in serving and loving others that we feel most alive.
This movie was the first film that Jimmy Stewart did after returning from World War II. He was by his own admission suffering terribly from PTSD, after leading many bomber missions into Germany. The anguish with which he acted was real and the cathartic message of this movie, likely helped him to find his way back to his career, his family and wonderful life in America. As we consider his sacrifice it is a great moment to honor all of the brave men and women who have protected our way of life during the past seven decades and who will protect us into the future.