It’s Christmas, so it’s time to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed playing George and Mary Bailey, the married couple plagued by honest dealings and Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore).
It’s a story set in the early 20th century. It’s an old story, one of sacrifice, modesty, loyalty, hard work, values such as family commitment, friendship, selflessness, belief in God, loving parents and unsophistication.
There’s a dark side to the movie, too; anger, attempted suicide, dishonesty, cruelty, violence, exploitation and abuse. It always makes a viewer cry, at least at its ending, as the townspeople of Bedford Falls rally around their favorite son, bailing him out of a mistaken financial jam and showing their love for his prior sacrifice, supporting affordable housing for their well-being.
It’s a story valuable today, as sophistication, selfishness and chasing the almighty dollar reign supreme.
Perhaps it should be required watching by all Millennials and Gen Z voters, as well as older adults.
The movie didn’t win an Academy Award in its day, but it’s a staple of today’s Christmas season because it runs repeatedly on television stations around the holidays. There are valuable lessons to learn from the movie that could benefit each generation.
First, it’s a story of “traditional” values. The characters sacrifice for each other — George’s friends give their man in trouble their money, his brother is supportive, Mary gives the Savings and Loan depositors the $2,000 she and George have saved for their honeymoon, George stays employed by the Building & Loan as his younger brother gets married while getting a college education, George is in charge at the Building & Loan despite his plans to see the world, and he eventually believes in Clarence the Angel when faced with the reality of “seeing what the world would be like without you” if (George) had never been born.
Second, it’s a story that returns us to a simpler time, when we didn’t not like a friend just because we disagreed with the friend politically, a time when we treated women with respect (even though Violet was a challenge in the movie), parents were loved and respected, and policemen and cab drivers were trusted friends.
Today, too many parents aren’t owed any debt of gratitude by their children, we rarely know the names of the police who protect us or those who drive us and keeping dollars is often deemed more valuable than helping out others who may need them. Too often we harshly judge others for their financial woes. When did anyone last help an acquaintance financially?
Yet George Bailey benefited from the big hearts of others in his town. Perhaps that’s an attraction of smaller towns — the ability to know others and help them out in times of trouble. We’ve made their acquaintance and know some.
That’s not to say we want to go back in time. Today, Americans’ standard of living is higher than ever, unemployment is low and bank regulations don’t stand for “runs” like we saw in the 1920s.
In the 1920s, medical technology was not sophisticated, life expectancies were lower and lifestyles were often uptight.
Political campaigns were simpler, uncomplicated and candidates/elected officials were respected. The internet didn’t exist nor did so many cable stations and television variety. Information was obtained from encyclopedias and other books — now information is easily accessed.
But there was something refreshing about that time — sophistication has not always been positive — computer hacking didn’t exist. Standing up for others in mild trouble gives us pleasure — helping another human being in need for a good cause is satisfying to the giver.
America is comprised of many small towns where one knows many other citizens; that’s why red counties outnumber blue counties, places where simple is good and too much sophistication becomes impersonal and uncaring; that may be why President Trump was victorious in 2016 — he appealed to common voters, though that could change in 2020, as more voters demand integrity and less disruption among their elected officials.
Of course, it depends on whom the Democrats nominate and what policy positions the nominee takes.
Regardless, it would do both major political party candidates well to study the movie and consider adopting a simpler message of family, faith and commitment to friends as part of their platform, speaking to the honest and plain-spoken among us.
That’s what the movie stands for and candidates should, too, recognizing that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a slogan worth remembering.