Conversations in Management: Ebenezer Scrooge

Are these the shadows of things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be only?

Ebenezer Scrooge

Scrooge_13At this point in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol we’ve already heard, “Bah! Humbug!” We’ve heard Scrooge’s plan to reduce poverty—let the poor die with the added benefit of “decreasing the surplus population.” We’ve seen Scrooge spurn the friendly overtures of his good-hearted nephew, Fred. We’ve experienced him hurling a ruler at the head of a young caroler, and met his hapless clerk, Bob Cratchit and the inspirational Tiny Tim. We’ve been visited by the spectral Jacob Marley who came to warn Scrooge of the consequences of continued hard-heartedness. We’ve traveled with Scrooge into his past and discovered how bit-by-bit his character was transformed from a loving young boy into a bitter old man. We’ve shuddered when in response to Scrooge’s question if Tiny Tim will live, the Ghost of Christmas Present says, “I see a vacant seat in the poor chimney corner and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.” And finally, we’ve been with Scrooge as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows him the lonely death of a misanthropic man. Unaware that he is watching his own demise, Scrooge has been horrified to see how this death brings only relief, happiness and hope—without a trace of sadness or remorse over the man’s passing. A terrified Scrooge, slowly realizing that the death he has witnessed is the shadow of his own future, asks this question.

Once asked, he’s able to answer the question himself because the entire story up to this point has been about self-examination. Jacob Marley and the three spirits came to Scrooge in order to provide him with one last opportunity to alter the trajectory of his unhappy life. But despite their efforts, he can only be saved through self-awareness and the attendant desire to amend his frosty ways. Now, as Scrooge looks into his own grave, the lessons become clear and he recognizes that, “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.” This, then, is the denouement and the story rapidly concludes with a redeemed Scrooge righting decades of wrongs. From a journey of self-discovery, it becomes a story of new life, new beginnings, new opportunities seized and new promises fulfilled.

There’s no getting around the fact that Scrooge had a lot to make up for. That business about “decreasing the surplus population,” is pretty harsh in and of itself, to say the least of his other malfeasance. But Christmas isn’t just about atonement and a fresh start. It’s a kind, charitable and pleasant season in which self-awareness might lead us to expressions of gratitude and thanks that are overlooked at other times of the year. There are a lot of reasons why we never quite get around to telling a friend how much they’re appreciated, or to say thanks for the small kindnesses that we experience every day, or to say I love you to someone you love. Sometimes it feels awkward, sometimes we’re too busy, sometimes we just forget. Too often we realize that we’ve missed an opportunity and figure we’ll say something next time—a next that never comes. So now that it’s Christmas, change course and make time. Become the voice of the season. Give a gift of good will and discover the things that May be when you speak from the heart! Merry Christmas!      —Ebert   

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