Transforming a Scrooge-Like World, Day by Day

IN years past, an integral part of the Christmas season for my now grown-up children was ``A Christmas Carol,'' the Charles Dickens story of Ebenezer Scrooge, the crotchety old miser who was so cruel in his treatment of his employee Bob Cratchit, and branded all human kindness ``humbug.''

As you remember, on Christmas Eve Mr. Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley, and is terrified by visions of Christmas past, present, and future. When Scrooge awakes on Christmas Day and discovers it all was a nightmare, he is overtaken by gratitude. His character is transformed for the better, and as a new man he disburses largess to the Cratchit family.

My children were brought up on the book, and then the movie, in which English actor Alastair Sim played Scrooge and Mervyn Johns played Bob Cratchit. The movie had some additional meaning for them because my family, in some peripheral involvement with filmmaking, had known both actors. We had visited Mr. Sim on the movie lot, and Mr. Johns, a Welshman, had spent time in the home of my Welsh parents, along with his actress-daughter, Glynis.

Now a new little son is being reared on the latest, video version of the story in which English actor Michael Caine teams up with the Muppets. It is a charming, if unlikely seeming, combination. Mr. Caine plays Scrooge. Kermit the Frog plays Bob Cratchit. Other stars are Miss Piggy, and Rizzo the Rat, and a gang of wise-cracking Muppet characters.

The story line of ``A Christmas Carol,'' from the original Charles Dickens book, to movie, to videocassette, has enchanted millions, and remains the same. As one writer has described it, it is a ``portrayal of the Spirit of Christ, which can turn men's lives completely around. It is a story of selfishness being replaced by generosity. It is a story of unconcern being replaced by deep concern. It is a story of hate being replaced by love. It is a story of sweet benediction when the little crippled child Tiny Tim (Bob Cratchit's son), calls out, `God bless us every one.' ''

It is a story whose moral is worth pondering anew in this year in which man's inhumanity to his fellow man has been obscene in such places as Bosnia and Somalia and Rwanda. The possibility of nuclear obliteration by the superpowers is behind us, but ugly regional conflicts stain our society and take hundreds of thousands of lives, many of them innocent, many of them children. Peace is not yet established on earth, and goodwill has not yet vanquished enmity and greed and selfishness from the hearts of men.

A new report by the independent research institute Worldwatch in Washington finds that the world still spends nearly 50 times as much to prepare for war as it does to promote peace. The study puts global spending this year for peace and demilitarization at $15.8 billion. That includes United Nations peacekeeping, military base closings, conversion of defense industries, and aid to the former Soviet republics for nuclear disarmament. But military spending throughout the world, though declining, still amounts to $767 billion this year.

If the challenge of getting entire nations, peoples, and armies to exhibit brotherly love seems daunting, perhaps we should start with more modest aspirations.

Every individual, making an effort to improve his or her relationships with other people, can make a difference in the family, the community, the nation, and the world. As individuals, perhaps each of us, for one day, could try to live a perfect day. We could replace selfishness with generosity; replace unconcern with a sense of responsibility for our fellow man; replace retaliation with forgiveness; replace hate with love. Then perhaps we could do it for another day. And another day. And another day.

The world will not change until people's hearts change. Governments cannot decree that. Peacekeeping troops cannot enforce that.

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