• September 27, 2021
 Op-Ed: The Lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Op-Ed: The Lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Christmas is the time when movies of hope and holiday spirit run 24×7 reminding us of what Christmas is about. For me, that means the greatest Christmas movie of all time, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The protagonist George Bailey faces a life of happiness and hardship, and as we watch George struggle to accept who he is, he also teaches us lessons on life.

Greatness is not always defined by visible success.

Through most of the movie George makes comments about the lack of importance of the Old Bailey Building & Loan. He wants to build sky scrapers, mile long bridges, and see the world. Over and over he states a desire to leave Bedford Falls and not waste his life trying to save three cents or a length of pipe.

Ironically, it is his speech that saves the building and loan and ties him to the town and work of his father.

What George doesn’t realize is he is the richest man in town for the same reason he tells his father, “pop I think you’re a great guy”; he fights for the town, helps others achieve their dreams, and is a man of the people who will always help a person in need.

Lasso the Moon and Stars.

Said as a line in a moment of flirting and romance, George offers to lasso the moon and give it as a gift to Mary. This theme over and over is seen, when George visits Mary after his brother returns home and when Mary tells George he is going to be a father.

George believes he is missing the capture of great things such as trips to Europe and building engineering marvels, but in fact he is lassoing hope, love, and friendship with every act. The moon and stars remain in orbit never caught by George, but he captures family, friends, and success in the lasso of giving and kindness he throws each day of his life.

Giving is greatness.

As the run on the bank is occurring, George stands and looks at portraits of his father on the wall of the building and loan office. Below this photo is a sign that reads “all you can take with you is that which you have given away.”

All we put out shows people who we are, good or bad, George or Potter. What is put out into the world is what we take away from the world. Hate creates hate and despair, kindness and giving creates hope. George misses what he is creating and what he is taking away because it isn’t the piles of money that Potter holds, but the beating of hope in each Bedford Falls citizens’ heart.

The Heart of a Child Holds the Hope of the World.

God tells Joseph that Clarence has the faith of a child and we see that faith is held in the heart of a child which beats within him. It is his faith and heart which makes him marvel at the ability to see Earth while watching young George grow.

It is the same heart of a child within Clarence which leads to him carrying around Tom Sawyer and order a Flaming Rum Punch and Mulled Wine in a bar where everyone else wants to drink because their heart has grown old and lost that childlike faith Clarence holds at 200.

Zuzu is a child, but she is a foreshadowing of the thought and heart within Clarence: she walks home, jacket open in cold weather, so she can protect a simple flower she won at school. And we see it in the hope and wishes within George as a youth and his early 20’s when he makes a wish on the cigar lighter in the drug store.

Who received their wings when the bell rings?

In the final scene, where friends and family bring cash to help save George, what we learn is bigger than helping those in need. We learn that the work of saving George’s life has led to Clarence receiving his wings. What is bigger than that is George gains acceptance of his life having meaning.

George stands, holding Zuzu, by a tree where the bell rings signaling Clarence being awarded his wings, and it’s at the moment that George also understands he has been walking through life hiding his own wings and halo. It isn’t until the moment he understands as big as his dreams were, what he has accomplished is bigger that: he realizes he, like Clarence, is an angel to the people of Bedford Falls.

The Butterfly Effect of Human Interactions.

The greatest thing It’s a Wonderful Life teaches us is we are not islands, but interconnected lives and each person in some way impacts the life of every man, woman, and child on the planet as the web of connections grows.

“Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” So what is the impact in daily life? Every interaction we have changes the world: interact with kindness and we change the future interactions, for millions, for the better.

Smile as you walk through life, give a shoulder to lean on, hold back statements which are hurtful, don’t be the hole which reduces or stops the positive interactions in the world.

Instead, be George’s lasso and continue to create a positive web and future kindness.


Author – Justin Nutt LSCSW, LAC – Special Contributor to the El Paso Herald Post

View his previous columns here

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1 Comment

  • In the age of suicide seen as less shameful / selfish, “It’s a Wonderful Life” suggests how often our lives touch (and save) others. I know for me, that this film has helped me rally and see my life as more valuable within the lives my being here has assisted.

    Ironically, in the history of this film being made, both Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra (the Director) were also saved by this work.

    A wonderful film and a fine opinion by Justin Nutt!!!

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