Whether we are celebrating Christmas for reasons of faith or otherwise we could all do a alot worse that watch the Frank Capra classic ‘Its a wonderful life’ . Whilst some see an All-American saccharine story, it contains themes that are relevant and inspirational. As a Christian Socialist I see the story as powerful and inspiring.
The film focuses on a man, George Bailey, who gets to see what life would be like in his home town had he not been born. Through supernatural help, God sends an angel, Clarence to show him what life would have been like in Bedford Falls, had he never lived.
In essence, we see that without Bailey, a virtuous family man and communitarian owner of a building and loan company, Bedford Falls becomes corrupted at the hands of a nihilistic, cynical tyrant called Potter. Many other negative things happen because Bailey simply wasn’t there to prevent them or be influential. A lovely story, but is it just a lovely story? For me, as this time, when we can might be more open to reflection it contains some powerful messages.
Firstly, the film reminds me that no life is worthless, Capra intentionally wanted to communicate this. We see that one life can, overtime have immense impact, without the impact of that life, who knows what can happen? What would life be like in the UK had Keir Hardie, Clem Attlee, Barbara Castle or Nye Bevan never been born?
Furthermore, we are to hold onto hope and reject cynicism. George Bailey is a hopeful person, but he is perhaps not hugely successful. Yet, he is a man of character, a man of virtue, who loves his family and is respected in the community. He is hopeful, he is a dreamer, he is a romantic rather than a rationalist and I believe Labour needs its romantics.
In addition, the Capra epic reminds us what success really is. Our hero is not a careerist, in the film, Bailey never quite achieves all he wants to do. He is forced to stay at home and tend the family business when he would rather travel the world. He faces personal disappointment and has broken dreams. Through this painful process his real success is born, but it is not apparent. What is success for Labour? What is success for us? Is it winning or achievement or is it more than that but less perhaps obvious? Similarly, if our political purpose becomes only orientated towards winning and achievement at all cost then we loss something of value. As the film ends Clarence sends Bailey a note saying ‘No man is a failure, who has friends’. This reminds me that relationships should trump achievements.
The business and community ethos of Bailey is one of compassion and communitarianism. It is not one of naked individualism, or a nihilistic, predatory capitalism. His business provides people with decent homes so they can remain decent citizens.
The opportunity Bailey is given; of seeing what life would have been like had he not lived is something none of us will get. He sees his town become a soulless, chaotic, dog-eat-dog place of disenchantment. Compared to a decent town with some semblance of community and where he is held in high regard. This powerfully re-inforces the truth that no life is worthless, no-one should be overlooked or put down. Politics can too often focus on the big picture and the abstract and ignore or crush the individual and his or her worth.
We see that in the end, there is no wealth, but life, family and friends. At Christmas time, I like to be reminded that my worth is not defined by my economic utility or achievement but has been forever changed because an extraordinary event occurred to very ordinary people two thousand years ago and that has changed my life.
Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2015, it really is a wonderful life.