We have a holiday tradition in our family. Every Christmas Eve we watch the classic Capra movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” No matter how many times I have seen it – I cry every time at the end when George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s character, opens a book that is inscribed “no man is a failure who has friends.” The movie is about George Bailey a frustrated but compassionate businessman following in the footsteps of his father. He runs a small building and loan company, barely making a profit, but making it possible for his customers – his friends and neighbors – to get a home.
There’s a crisis in the film where George wants to end his life. An angel comes to him and shows him what it would have been like if he had never been born. That’s when George realizes how much his life has affected the lives of others and what a rich life he really has.
I think we all tend to forget how our lives affect the lives of others. In the things we say. In the things left unsaid. Often times we don’t even realize how we affect others because we are too narrowly focused on ourselves and only see our own perspective. Many times, our perspective might not be what’s really happening at all. The funny thing is that you never really know how your life has affected another’s unless they tell you – and most people don’t.
Every so often when I get frustrated by people’s actions, I remind myself that those very things that people do that make me feel bad or angry or sad – are the human imperfections that make life what it is. I remind myself that my imperfections and actions have an affect on others as well.
Every now and then, I’ll get an email or a Facebook message where somebody lets me know that I affected them in a positive way. It’s usually very something simple that I did or said, but it makes me feel good to hear that I made someone else’s life a little bit better.
Our world has changed a lot since Capra made this movie in 1946. A “friend” has taken on a different meaning – certainly a broader as we communicate globally with ease. But ultimately people are people with the basic human need of wanting to be loved and to know that someone cares about them. When we begin to understand that – it is what we do for others that brings the most rewards to our own life – then it really is a wonderful life.