It’s a Wonderful Life, based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s 24-page Christmas pamphlet, tops the American Film Institute’s list of the most inspiring movies of all time. As president of a building and loan which has misplaced a large sum of money, its main character, George Bailey, expects to go to jail for bank fraud. Trusting absentminded Uncle Billy with so much money was an obvious gamble for George, and he failed to hedge that bet. He cannot afford to cover the loss; his own house is falling apart. He feels trapped. He has long given-up the dreams of his youth. He is worn down to the point of desperation.
He takes his frustration out on his children and wife, and sells-out his morals. Everything he does makes people angry with him. Driving drunk through the snow at night, he crashes his car into a tree. He trudges through the snow by foot until he reaches a bridge over a freezing river. It’s Christmas Eve, and his four children deserve a Christmas he cannot deliver. He plans to kill himself, figuring his life insurance policy makes him worth more dead than alive.
George doesn’t realize that he is only hours away from the most wonderful experience of his life. His wife has phoned friends who are phoning friends who are phoning friends. They are rallying and praying for him. Their prayers are so strong and numerous that they shift the mood of heaven itself, and the angels send a guardian to make sure George doesn’t end his life before his big moment arrives.
The guardian shows George that he underestimates his value, that every touch he makes on the lives of others grows like a seed which produces more seed in turn. George’s big moment arrives when he finally turns himself over to the authorities. Supporters arrive like a flood, each offering whatever they can. A contagious spirit of generosity spreads like wildfire, touching George in a way no one could ever forget. The angels leave him with a note: “Dear George: Remember no man is a failure who has friends.”
Bailey’s friends forgave and rallied around him, even when he would not forgive himself. If you find this ending satisfying, then you probably overlook the fact that it undermined the process of law, that it was unfair—surely there were other misfortunate people who deserved mercy more than George did. You would overlook this fact because the story is about love, and love goes beyond fairness and law. The ending warms viewer’s hearts for the same reasons it warms hearts to witness support for the victims of tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and terrorist acts, and to care for babies, pets, and others who cannot reciprocate. It is not because we believe in law or logic, but because we believe in love.
If you are naturally relational, then you prefer to be guided more by empathy than by law or logic. Prioritizing feelings over principles allows you to adjust to the unpredictable situations you encounter; like a good dance partner, you adjust to others even before reasoning about them. You seek to go beyond politeness, to care genuinely, to develop and be guided by good character. You credit your character to the relationships which have shaped you, so you may be especially concerned with role-models and making sure people associate with a good crowd and/or a good partner.
The preceding is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of GRIN Free – GRIN Together: How to let people be themselves (and why you should). Read the rest here.