Just when it seemed that the last worthy “life lesson” had been squeezed from the 1946 movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, here’s one that doesn’t involve any talking stars, stodgy angels or warping of the space-time continuum.
As the newly-wed George and Mary Bailey are about to depart on their honeymoon, they’re told that Bailey Building and Loan customers are panicking and trying to withdraw all their money before losing it to a crash. George averts disaster by jumping behind the counter and convincing most of them to settle for $20 to sustain them until the crisis passes. When her turn comes, one customer—Miss Davis—instead of taking the $20, says, “Could I have $17.50?” George replies, “Bless your heart,” and gives her a big kiss on the head.*
Now, what lesson can be taken from this scene? When closing time came that day, how much cash did the Building and Loan have left? Two dollars. And that only because Miss Davis refused to take more than what she needed. Would it allow someone else to get what they need if—more often—we chose not to take all we can get?
- What if—more often—businesses sought the profit they need rather than all they can get? Would it allow them to provide a better living for more of their employees?
- What if—more often—people took what they need from government programs and insurance claims rather than all they can get? Would it allow more people to receive benefits?
- What if—more often—neighbors sought the possessions they need rather than all they can get? Would it reduce feelings of inequality and break down barriers between them?
Idealistic? Of course…and? What’s wrong with attempting to live according to our ideals? And leaving some for the next guy when we can.
*Before shooting the scene, director Frank Capra fed Ellen Corby (Davis) the unscripted line without telling James Stewart (George), so he would be genuinely surprised. He was, and the grateful kiss was an in-character ad lib by Stewart.