Be Nice: you make it a wonderful life

During the Christmas season, one of my favorite things to do is watch “It’s A Wonderful Life”. For me, it’s just not Christmas without George Bailey and Clarence the Angel.

If you’ve never seen the movie, it tells the story of a despondent man who contemplates suicide, believing the world would have been better off without him. His guardian angel-in-training, Clarence, comes to earth to give him the opportunity to see what the world would have been like had he never been born.

George is skeptical as he and Clarence have a series of odd interactions with family and friends who seem not to recognize George or remember anything about his involvement in their lives. George’s entire world seems turned upside down, but soon he finally believes that Clarence is really an angel and that he, in fact, is seeing a world without George Bailey.

In the movie’s pivotal moment, George and Clarence are standing at the tombstone of George’s younger brother, Harry Bailey. As a child, Harry Bailey fell through the ice while he and friend were sledding; George saved his life. Harry Bailey grew up, got married, and went on to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor after saving the lives of men on a transport ship in the war.

And yet as George brushes away the snow on the headstone, he see that the death date shows that Harry died as a child. George is in disbelief, insisting that it’s a mistake. Clarence explains.

Clarence: Your brother Harry broke through the ice and drowned at the age of nine.

George Bailey: That’s a lie! Harry Bailey went to war! He got the Congressional Medal of Honor! He saved the lives of every man on that transport!

Clarence: Every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry

Clarence sums up the point of the movie when he says, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Yes, indeed, Clarence. So with that in mind, here’s our Be Nice challenge:

Simply notice who you come into contact with every day. Maybe you get coffee at the same place every morning and the same barista waits on you. Maybe you’ve never noticed the security guard who checks your ID to your office building or walked right by the cleaning people in a hotel where you’re staying. Ever notice the toll collector? Gas station attendant? Mailman? Cashiers, janitors, bank tellers, dry cleaner?

Then come back and share what you’ve noticed. Are you surprised by how many people make up the background of your life? Have you ever considered that your most simple interactions may have meaningful consequences to other people, even if you never know it?

Here’s who I interacted with; I’m sharing it because I kind of surprised myself. So far today, I’ve interacted with:

  • the cashier and cart guys at the grocery store
  • a woman I kept running into at the store who was perpetually blocking the aisles and apologizing for it
  • one of the stock people because I had a question about an item that had an outdated sale sign on it
  • the girl who waited on my at Tim Hortons, along with the rest of the staff who waved from behind the counter
  • my husband before he went to work
  • my daughter on the phone
  • and scads of people online.

But if you’d asked me who I saw today, I probably would have told you “No one”.

I think it’s worth taking time to consider who we touch every day, because I think we tend to focus only on the big interactions and miss the small ones. We’ll talk more about that later …

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