Watching the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is holiday tradition, at least for some people.
I have to admit to having never seen it in its entirety until just recently.
In the movie a struggling businessman contemplates suicide and wishes he had never been born. Yet a guardian angel grants him a vision of what life for all his loved ones, neighbors, and community would be like had he not been there.
Without his influence and strong moral leadership the town would have become sleazy, crime ridden, and filled with unsavory characters. At one point in the movie there’s even a gunfight between criminal gangs in the once pleasant community park.
Based on this alternate vision of potential reality, the main character, played by the great Jimmy Stewart, pleads with his guardian angel to give him his life back. Despite all his hardships and uncertainty over navigating life’s challenges he comes to appreciate what he’s got.
Moreover, it’s not really about what he has for himself as much as it is the impact he has on others that motivates him to return to face things, just the way that they are, yet with a fresh perspective.
Oftentimes we too forget just how important our individual contributions are to promoting the well-being of our loved ones and community, mostly because we do not see them. There are subtle actions that affect others in ways we frequently fail to understand.
Modern sociology now uses terminology that Buddhists have understood for centuries. There are “latent” causes, meaning forces operating below the surface of our awareness, that yield “manifest” effects. We can see or touch manifest causes, like a hammer hitting a nail, yet often neglect the underlying factors that lead to putting those two tools together in the first place.
In a busy and complex modern world it is easy to lose sight of the big picture as well as the fundamental influences that impact our lives and social environments. I would suggest it takes deliberate practice to seek out and become aware of the forces that order our lives.
You have to make deliberately appreciating “what is” a regular practice.
I do it almost every day in a journal. First thing in the morning, after sitting down with a hot tea or coffee, I make a list of three things to be grateful for, three things I intend to do with the day, and one positive affirmation to motive some positive action.
Doing this practice helps set a glide path for the day.
We, as individuals with limited human faculties, cannot know all the details and variables that go into our personal or social outcomes. Trying to do so can be quite maddening. It’s also a waste of energy.
This is why Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, advised to focus on things that are squarely within your locus of control. We may influence the entire world in some ‘butterfly effect’ kind of way, however, we cannot ever really know how much or accurately keep score of it.
The best we can hope for is to master our own domain and trust that our example, along with a few random acts of courage or kindness, will ripple out into the larger world around us.
Here is to staying on the warrior’s path and being that example.