Trucks at Work

Numbers & Souls

“Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you are talking about - they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.” --George Bailey from the movie “It‘s a Wonderful Life”

I know, I know - do I have to go and quote from what‘s considered one of the cheesiest Christmas movies of all time? Isn‘t it going to be on television enough here over the next few days?

Well, I can‘t help it. Something of a flop when it came out in 1946, Frank Capra‘s “It‘s a Wonderful Life” went on to become a major holiday classic -- and also became one of Jimmy Stewart‘s most heralded roles. I won‘t bore you with the details (turn on any TV channel, cable or otherwise - you‘ll see it somewhere) but suffice to say it‘s a film that‘s become part of the culture in our country. Heck, my political science textbook back in college used this film as the basis for several chapters spent delving into the quintessential system of values formed during baby boom era.

Yet I think this little black and white film still speaks to a lot of beliefs deep-rooted in the American psyche: that every person‘s life, no matter how insignificant it seems to them, has an impact far greater than they know. Like ripples in a pond, a person‘s actions shift events in all sorts of unexpected ways. George Bailey saves the life of his brother, Harry, and allows him to go on to college in his place. Eventually, Harry becomes an ace fighter pilot and saves the lives of thousands of soldiers stuck on a troopship after shooting down a kamikaze attacker. Without George in those two critical moments in Harry‘s life, Harry could not go on to save other lives - something George is shown by his guardian angel Clarence later on.

It‘s pretty significant, too, I think that Jimmy Stewart took on this role. Already hugely famous before World War II, Stewart fought in the skies over Europe as a bomber pilot and squadron commander and proved to be popular and well liked by his fellow airmen. A bonafide war hero, he could‘ve taken on any number of dashing roles - indeed, Hollywood practically hounded him to do some stirring war movie - but George Bailey is the character he chose to portray in his first post-war film.

For me, though, this sappy cinematic Capra masterpiece serves as an important reminder: that a person‘s value isn‘t wrapped up in fame and fortune, how many cars they have in the driveway, or the designer labels on their blue jeans. It‘s about what they do in life to make even their small corner of the world a better place. That‘s where the true value in humanity lies, I think.

To round out the sappiness, I‘d like to leave you with some words from Robert F. Kennedy: and regardless of your views of the Kennedy family in history as well as politics, I think Robert‘s words speak pretty effectively to what we truly need to hold dear in this country of ours. Merry Christmas.

“Let us be clear at the outset that we will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress and an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the gross national product.

For the gross national product includes air pollution, and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks on our doors and jails for the people who break them. It includes ... the broadcasting of television violence to sell goods to our children.

And if the gross national product includes all of this, there is much it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, of the joy in their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, the strength of their marriages, the intelligence of our public debate, or the integrity of our public officials. The gross national product measures neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile; and it can tell us everything about America - except whether we are proud to be Americans.”