This Christmas my church staged a production of Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol.” For as many Christmases as this classic story has aired on television in one rendition or another, I almost ashamedly admit that I’ve never really cared for the story. Often playing amid the backdrop of the Christmas season, I hadn’t paid close attention to the beautiful theme of transformation that played out on stage this year right before my eyes.
Following his haunting encounters with the ghosts of his past, present, and future, Ebenezer Scrooge awakes one morning, transformed and resolute in his commitment to be kind, generous, and benevolent. One by one, Scrooge faces the individuals he has wronged: among them a neglected nephew and a devoted employee. For his hardened heart, he lost his love, so there is no one with whom to reconcile.
While his own transformation is remarkable, what impressed me as I watched Ebeneze Scrooge come to life was the reaction of those with whom he sought to make amends. Though stunned and quite possibly amused at his remarkable metamorphosis, from an insensitive and stingy old man to the incarnation of kindness, no one (at least not in this adaptation) scoffed at his change. There were no remarks of doubt or skepticism towards him, just gracious acceptance for who he had become.
When I was in college, I participated on several student-led committees. In one of them, the faculty member who worked with us had expressed his hope to see an operations manual of sorts be written after we finished our campus-wide event. This would, in turn, provide direction and information to the next group of student leaders planning the same event in following years. Being the leader heading up the week-long seminars and activities involved in our World Opportunities Week, this responsibility fell to me.
What this faculty member did not realize when he expressed his doubt that I would follow-through, based on the performance of previous students was that his skepticism fueled my drive even more. Nothing was more irksome to me than being doubted based on the performance of other people.
I thought to myself, “Oh yea? Well, I’m going to write that manual, and I’ll show him.” If anything, maybe his attitude challenged me. Perhaps he even intended the consequence. I recall a degree of surprise when I pulled out the binder that documented my hard work in organizing the event. My sense of gratification was all the greater because I was making a point. I did not appreciate being doubted because others had disappointed. I had no previous record to indicate that I didn’t finish things, and I would have preferred being given the benefit of the doubt.
Perhaps this New Year, you have made a resolution or two. You might have announced it proudly with wide-eyed optimism, or you may, like me, wish to keep your aspirations for 2015 to yourself.
When making room for resolutions or change of any kind, we each need the support of our friends and family. We might hesitate to announce our aspirations because our enthusiasm has been steam-rolled before by someone whose doubts or lack of encouragement discouraged us.
Even if it’s just from one person, pessimism binds others to failure; it kills the spirit, and it shrinks the heart. How much of the change we so desire in ourselves and our world is stunted by our inability to believe it is even attainable in the first place? Can you imagine something better for yourself? Are you willing to imagine that for someone else?
It can feel safer to shrink into the confines of negativity and doubt because embracing change in others might mean something about us may have to change, and this can be uncomfortable. After all, the choice to change wasn’t ours, yet it calls upon us to respond and may require a change in our perception or attitudes towards another.
What if my best friend does lose 20 pounds? She might look better than me.
What if my spouse starts balancing the check book? Then I won’t be in control anymore.
What if my co-worker gets a promotion? Then I won’t feel as good about myself.
What if my child moves out? Then she won’t need me as much anymore.
Behind our skepticism is a reminder of our own insecurities. Buried underneath our doubt is also a doubt about ourselves. Instead of running the race with our friend, we secure our place on the sidelines of a run that drains the life out of both people. Either way, no one wins.
Imagine a world in which we could celebrate the progress of others and cheer them on in their pursuits. Imagine a world where everyday was about resolution-making because there was just that much to hope for. After all, freeing ourselves up from the compulsion to judge the fortitude of others in fulfilling their own resolutions is, in a way, a testament to our own limitations. Letting go loosens the grip of negativity, and it unleashes the possibility of change for us all.
*This post originally published in December, 2015*