Through the Lens of ‘A Christmas Carol’

December 14, 2016 | Leadership

By: Ken Embley

This time of year, I always get a little joy out of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and my favorite character, Ebenezer Scrooge—“bah humbug!”  I picture Scrooge at his dark and cold counting house with his dreary view of life, concentrating on the task at hand with little care for others or for that matter, the demands of a changing tomorrow.  You know what is scary—I really like this Scrooge!

Do you think I like Scrooge because I know how the story ends?

I don’t know what to do!’ cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his stockings.  I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy.  I am as giddy as a drunken man.  A merry Christmas to everybody!  A happy New Year to all the world!  Hallo here!  Whoop!  Hallo!

(Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, page 100)

After all, a prize Turkey for the Cratchit family, “It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim” has to leave a warm fuzzy.  Nevertheless, I must be a wicked old sole.  The new Scrooge is okay, but I really like the old Scrooge, and that leaves me to wonder.

Okay, come on, isn’t there a little of the old Scrooge in all of us?  For me, it is rewarding to spend time alone in my own little “counting house” to accomplish routine and seemingly important tasks.  In my “counting house,” I do not need to think about the changing demands of many tomorrows’.  Honestly, I think most of us like normal patterns of work without the burdens of self-reflection and self-improvement and to worry if what we are doing today will matter tomorrow.  Is this just my little secret or do others love their little “counting house” as much as I love mine.

The problem, of course, is that Jacob Marley character and visiting spirits.  Marley’s message for us all is to increase our capacities to make a difference in the lives of people.  In a way, Marley and the spirits in Dickens’ story introduce Scrooge to the wild notion of make a difference—and for Scrooge, this was not a pleasant experience.

So—do you see why I like the old Scrooge?  The old Scrooge gets to do work behind closed doors; real work, the kind of work that leads me to say, “I checked off every to-do item on my list—I really did something today.”  Besides, this old Scrooge gets to eat the prize Turkey—be-it all alone.

Then again, make a difference work is important.  After all, the prize Turkey would indeed look nice on the Cratchit family dinner table and just maybe there is something about make a difference work to benefit Tiny Tim.

“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed.  “The spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  Oh Jacob Marley!  Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this!  I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!”

(Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, page 98)

Ken Embley is a senior research associate at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.