My two favorite parts of “It’s a Wonderful Life” are both born out of crisis.
The first comes as there is a run on the Bailey Building and Loan, the small community bank led by the movie’s protagonist, George Bailey. Fearing insolvency the customers descend on the bank with the hope of withdrawing all of their money out of fear caused by the stock market crash. George eventually explains the communal nature of the bank and how much of their money is tied up in the investments of each other’s homes and mortgages. Eventually most of the customers agree only to withdraw money they urgently need, ultimately saving the bank and their community from collapse.
The second comes at the end of the film. George has been despondent after losing the bank’s deposit and is now in fear of going to jail for bank fraud. After attempting suicide, he ultimately is able to see the value of his life and the difference he has made in the lives of others (all with some guidance from his guardian angel Clarence.) He still has to deal, however, with the practical matter of the missing money. In a beautiful example of parallel structure, the community once again descends… but this time on his home to donate money to save George and his family from ruins.
In both of these cases, there was a perception of scarcity, when in reality there was sufficiency. In other words, there was enough to go around.
One of the misconceptions around the Great Potato Famine was that it is a story primarily about scarcity of food. But while blight devastated the potato crop, food exports from Ireland to Great Britain actually increased during this period that saw over 1 million Irish die and another 1.5 million emigrate to other countries such as the United States. The British government’s response was some combination of inept, inadequate and insufficient. At one point, soup kitchens which had been an important relief program were suspended for fear that people were becoming too dependent on them.
Today, as we once again face an unprecedented crisis, it is natural to see this from the perspective of scarcity. And yes we can point to shortages of tests, PPE equipment, respirators and of course a vaccine. But economically, we still have the resources to support each other until better times return.
I’ve seen this with friends who have taken pay cuts to support their employees, or who run businesses who are able to get by through the federal PPP program. We’ve read stories about professional athletes who are donating a portion of their salaries so that other lower paid employees of the organization can be paid. We have seen thousands of acts of kindness as people share themselves in ways financial and otherwise to assist those who are struggling.
Recently I’ve also noticed friends who are using their social media feeds to implore their friends to ask for help if they need it. This should bring us all hope and inspiration.
Sharing requires two things. Someone who has a need and someone who has something to give. As long as we continue to see both, I think we will be alright. When we only see one, well that’s when scarcity comes for us all.
If you need anything, I hope you ask someone.
If you have anything to share, may you find someone to share it with.