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We Need More Scrooges, More Grinches

Matthias-Weinberger-CC

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz - published on 12/18/14

A Christmas Carol's focus is on the miser, and what he became.

Yes, you read that title correctly. We need more Scrooges.

“But, wait!” you object. “Ebenezer Scrooge ‘was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone…a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire, secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.’” Yep, you’re right, he was that way.

But the operative word here is “was.” He was that way. By the time we reach the end of "A Christmas Carol," he is completely changed. “Scrooge was better than his word….He became as good a friend, as good a master, as good a man as the good old City knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world….and it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

But that’s the problem with a novel like "A Christmas Carol," where the main character is a nasty creature throughout the bulk of the story and then has a change of heart at the end. Human nature being what it is, we tend to remember the nasty stuff and forget the change. (That’s why the command to forgive is a command. If it was a mere suggestion, we’d never do it because we don’t like to forgive, much less forget.)

What happened in this novel is that Scrooge became less of a businessmen interested only in the graphs, charts and fluctuations of his income and expenses, but in helping the real lives of his fellow humans. This can’t be confused with mere philanthropy. Bill Gates, who now thinks he’s doing the work of God (though which god’s work he thinks he’s doing isn’t clear), is not the example. Dumping millions or even billions of dollars onto something like polio wasn’t the way of the reformed Scrooge. He wasn’t into anonymous funding of major projects to help the crowds. Instead, Scrooge helped individuals in a very personalized way. Yes, he gave money to a gentleman who was “endeavoring to raise a fund to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.” In fact, Scrooge’s contribution was so large that it took the portly gentleman aback. But Scrooge was insistent because it “include[d] a good many back payments.”

Beyond that, however, Scrooge was intent on helping individuals and developing relationships with them, in particular his nephew Fred and his wife, Clara, and Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. “He became as good a friend, as good a master, as good a man as the good old City knew,” are Dickens’ words.

What was Scrooge’s first act after coming back from the living dead? Sending a boy to fetch a huge turkey from a poulterer’s store to send to the Cratchit household anonymously. It was a very personal action, taken in favor of someone he knew and knew to be in need.

But even his exchange with the errand boy shows a profound change. He gave the boy a half-a-crown. Most of us don’t know what that means, so here’s the translation: In today’s money, that’s worth about $8.70. In Dickens’ day, the average English worker made two shillings a day, which is about $6.70 in today’s money. So for a five-minute errand, that boy made 23 percent more than the average laborer made in one day. That’s generosity. Think about it this way: In today’s economy, the average person makes $165.31 a day. A 23 percent bump means Scrooge gave that boy the equivalent of $203.33 – not bad for a five-minute errand.

We do not hear how much he raised Bob Cratchit’s salary, only that he “was better than his word” and to Tiny Tim, “he was a second father.” If his generosity to the errand boy is any indication, it’s rather likely that Scrooge gave Bob a pretty major bump.

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