One of the most popular movies of the holiday season, "It’s a Wonderful Life," tells the story of a man who has the opportunity to see what I’d call the "spiritual footprint" of his life. Although the main character, George Bailey, planned a more exciting life for himself, he is forced by circumstances and good conscience to live a less glamorous life as a small businessman and family man.
When faced with a crushing hardship, and in the pit of despair, he is given a glimpse of what the world would have been like if he had never lived. He sees how every good action and responsible decision, beginning in childhood, had a profound and uplifting effect on the course of history for his family and community.
In today’s world of fallen heroes and corruption, it’s great to be reminded that we have the power to shape the course of events, simply by our own thoughts and behavior. The author of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, "The good you do and embody gives you the only power obtainable" (p. 192). Holding the right course in our own lives gives us all the power we need to negate the misdeeds and negative role-modeling of others. This impact can be seen in unexpected places.
I came across an interesting story of role-modeling while watching a wildlife program about African elephants. Existence has become much harder for these elephants as they compete with surrounding villages for living space. Wildlife officials, wrestling with balancing the needs of humans and elephants, often encounter problems with unusually aggressive young male elephants.
One solution to combat that problem is to relocate those misfits into the territory of well-adapted bull elephants. The positive influence of the older males, serving as role models, has been effective in reforming the youngsters that otherwise would have been euthanized. The resulting effect is good for the elephants and a protection to the villages.
Far from those elephants on the African savanna, and separated by more than 2,000 years, a Bible story tells how an encounter with the ultimate role model, Jesus of Nazareth, reversed the actions of an unscrupulous public official named Zacchaeus.
At the beginning of the account, Zacchaeus was a tax collector who took unfair advantage of citizens to expand his own personal wealth. When Jesus passed through town, Zacchaeus was so intent on seeing him that he climbed a tree for a better view. Zacchaeus had likely heard stories of healings performed by Jesus, and was curious to see this "miracle worker." As he approached, Jesus saw Zacchaeus up in the tree and arranged to meet him.
This encounter had a two-fold nature. First, Zacchaeus was drawn to the goodness in Jesus’ character – the perfect model. Second, where others saw a dishonest man, Jesus "looked up" and saw Zacchaeus in a different light. Their subsequent encounter inspired Zacchaeus to change his course; he promised to fulfill his duties honestly and to make reparations for the ill-gotten wealth (see Luke 19:1-10). This certainly had to have had a positive effect on the finances and the mental outlook of the community.
Like Jesus, we can "look up" and see the perfect model in others, as well as make our own lives a good example to follow. In this way, instead of accepting life as it appears, we can contribute to changing the headlines. Living in this consciousness, not only at holiday season but every day of the year, is a reason to rejoice that truly, it is a wonderful life!