“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” The ghost of Jacob Marley, speaking to Ebenezer Scrooge ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
The moral lessons in A Christmas Carol are told in the context of this Christian holiday, yet their relevance and power transcend a specific faith tradition. They are universal, resonating with people of all faiths and cultures.
They cause us to reflect on what matters, and examine our own lives in their light. Each year at this time I watch the 1938 film adaptation of A Christmas Carol (my favorite!), and it reminds me that kindness, gentleness, compassion, consideration, generosity, humanity, appreciating each other, and helping those in need, should always show up in our interactions with others and in the world around us. And each year I find myself lacking in always making “mankind…my business.”
When we think about it we all recognize the worth of living this way and experiencing these things. I expect we share the recognition that we don’t contribute to them enough even though the need is great.
When Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, he was writing from his own experience and commenting on the conditions of his time. His words are just as relevant today, and speak to challenges that now exist on a global scale. Around the world and here in the United States polarization, distrust of others, prejudice, resentment, xenophobia, rage, animosity, and so on have grown to frightening proportions.
It seems we have lost our ability to work across differences within the context of a safe, civil society. The fabric of our democratic processes has been torn to the point where some wonder if it can be restored. This is very dangerous. Our way of life is at stake. I wrote in September about the desperate need for citizens to cultivate and use the skills of citizenship to create common ground and take back governance for ourselves to restore a functioning democracy.
Making “the common welfare…[our] business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence” our business, we apply a healing salve to our interactions that gives relief to our neighbors and restores the shredded fabric of our national and international community. It’s the “spirit of the season,” and as Scrooge eventually realized, it is a way to live “throughout the year.”
So as we think about the coming holidays and all the hubbub they bring, as we think about the gifts we want to give, let’s agree to think about and give the greatest gift of all, in every interaction: the gift of love, of compassion, of kindness, of brotherhood and sisterhood. Let’s remember that “the common welfare” is our business.
In my view, nothing is more needed, and nothing can bring more joy, peace, or wellbeing to the giver and the receiver of these gifts, or do more to restore conditions that enable us to work across differences to create the world we want.