While watching a movie, I think it’s common to live vicariously through the lead character. This probably isn’t true for some movies, as there’s no dedicated star to wish to be. When I watch the Bourne movies I feel as though I should take some fighting classes. Not self defense classes, just fighting classes. I’m jealous of all the fighting skill. When I watch Top Gun I wish to be at those controls, in that cockpit, shooting down the enemy. But when I watch Ace Ventura I don’t wish to be Ace. I don’t want to have all of those animals in my room. I don’t want that hair. I can’t relate. I watched It’s A Wonderful Life again last weekend.
Imagining being George Bailey isn’t really very difficult for me. George never left his home town, and neither did I. George went to work at a family business, and in a looser way, so did I. I feel, in the way that any small town kid might, that George Bailey is me and I am he. I have an old man Potter in my life. I feel his pain when he wonders what might have been. Had he been able to go off to see the world. Had he invested in the plastics business. Had he been a bit more shrewd in the lending business. The only difference between the two of us is that I never lost the hearing in my left ear, because neither of my brothers were dumb enough to slide on a shovel into open water.
Besides these obvious similarities, the stronger connection in this movie is not between small town boys. It’s not the connection between angels and their wings. It’s the connection between business and stress. That’s really what this movie is about, after all. It’s about anxiety. George is faced with a problem. His sloppy uncle inadvertently sticks $8000 into Potter’s newspaper, and on the same day that the bank examiner happens to be in town for a visit. George panics. He begs Potter to bail him out. Potter only turns up the heat. Law enforcement is coming. George is going to jail. Except, is he? He doesn’t think he is, because he tells his Uncle that one of the two of them are going to jail and it isn’t going to be him. No, George isn’t going to jail. But he screams at his wife and kids and overturns the Golden Gate Bridge and slips out for a night of drunken despair.
In the end, George’s wife goes out and begs the town for some help, and help they do. No man who has friends is poor. Or something like that. That’s the moral in the cinema. But the real takeaway is back to the anxiety. The stress. The feeling as though it is all on your singular shoulders. George should have sat down with the bank examiner and explained what happened. If the bank examiner didn’t buy the story, George should have gone out and called everyone he knew. He called Sam Wainwright, but Sam was busy or something. Later, when the townspeople are giving George their last $5, Wainwright sends a telegram. He’s directing his bank to wire $25,000 to George Bailey immediate. George was only upside down $8k. Why did he need $25k from Hee Haw? If he got the $25k that easily, and quickly, why did the maid have to give George the money she had earmarked to pay for her future divorce? Once the $25k wire was announced, I would have quietly pulled my ten dollar bill out of the pile. The whole story is a sham.
Because the crisis in this movie isn’t ever really a crisis. In the way that a deal going south on a Thursday isn’t really a crisis. In business, and in real estate, we tend to forget what actually matters. Deals do not matter. If I live another 20 years and die, will the Johnson deal on First Street ever matter to me? Or will the way I treated my son when he left his light on this morning for the millionth time be the thing I regret? These deals consume me, and they make me into a person that I don’t particularly like. They needn’t do that. This year has been a stressful year for me. Successful, sure, but at a cost. When surrounded by customers who routinely fail to keep perspective it’s easy to fall prey to anxiety. After all, that’s all that really happened to George. He wasn’t going to jail. His crisis lasted all of a few hours. He woke up that day feeling fine and he went to bed that night feeling fine. It was the in between overreaction that nearly killed him.
I’m going to take a few days off to celebrate Christmas. My wife is home with the flu, so I’ll mostly be tiptoeing around my house trying not to touch any doorknobs or faucet handles. But whether you’re on the heels of a Hanukkah celebrations or just about to begin your Christmas joy, I wish you a most peaceful Holiday season.