A CHRISTMAS CAROL
And the Hope of Process Thinking
A Movie and a Short Reflection by Bob Mesle
If you are from China you may not know the story of Charles Dickens’ wonderful book, A Christmas Carol (1843). The book is so famous in the West that the name of the main character, Scrooge, has become part of the English language. The story is set in London in the early 1800’s.
Ebenezer Scrooge, a rich but miserly and miserable old man has closed his heart to all human compassion, and cares only for money. Scrooge’s heart is so closed up that he does not even enjoy his own wealth. He lives alone in an empty old building, dark and cold because darkness and cold are cheap. His life takes an unexpected turn on Christmas Eve. He is visited by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley, warning him that he will be visited by three spirits, and advising him to learn the lessons they teach. Then come the spirits of Christmases past, Christmas present, and Christmas future. They show Scrooge his lonely childhood, and his selfish, sad choices which slowly turned him into the miserable, lonely, mean old man he is. The Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come shows him the future results of those choices, in which he will die alone, unloved, and unmourned. As the death-like spirit of the future points down toward a grave stone (which Scrooge will discover to be his own) Scrooge asks a crucial question, to which process thinkers propose a powerful answer.
“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be only?”…
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the end will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!”
The Spirit was immovable as ever. …
“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?”
The kind hand trembled.
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone.” …
Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’ hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and swindled down into a bed post.’(134)
Upon awakening on Christmas morning, Scrooge is, indeed, a totally new man, rejoicing in life, with an entirely different future before him.
Scrooge was right. Our choices do point us toward a likely future. But that future, any future, does not yet exist--is not yet settled or actual. Consequently, new choices can help us create a very different future. That is Good News for the world. New possibilities, new paths, new ways of being are always open to us.
The Buddha, the Upanishads, and Aristotle wisely taught that character is formed by our choices. By continuing to make the same choices until they become habits, our habits becomes character. Thus, the Buddha said:
“Little by little a person becomes evil, as a pot is filled by drops of water.
…Little by little a person becomes good, as a pot is filled by drops of water.” 9:121-2
Yet, sometimes, a dramatic change happens in a flash. For me, the conversion and reclamation of Charles Dickens’ character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is one of the shining inspirations to remind us that even deep seated habits of character, years of bad karma, are open to change. The future does not exist, except as a range of possibilities. Habits do point us toward certain ends, but those habits can be changed.
Process thinkers affirm that the future does not exist, that it waits for us to create it through choices interwoven with the choices of the other creatures of the world. The future is open. New life is possible. In this regard we may say with Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one.”
About the Author of the Reflection
C. Robert (Bob) Mesle is one of the most influential process philosophers in our time. His book Process-Relational Philosophy: An Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead is used in many parts of the world as an introduction to process thinking. His article in JJB on Relational Power is a definitive introduction to this key concept. You will enjoy these additional articles as well:
Creative Transformation: Three Reflections GO
The Tao of Grandparenting GO
What Really Matters GO
Sacred Fudge GO
Elliot is Brahman GO
Children in a Burning House GO
Suffering and Meaning: Reflections on a Death GO
Quantum Indeterminacy and the Case for Freedom in Nature GO
About the Movie
A Christmas Carol is a 1984 made-for-television film adaptation of Charles Dickens' famous 1843 novella of the same name. The film is directed by Clive Donner who had been an editor of the 1951 film Scrooge and stars George C. Scottas Ebenezer Scrooge...
The movie was filmed on location in Shrewsbury, England. It originally aired on CBS on December 17, 1984 in the United States but was released theatrically in Great Britain...
Novelist and essayist Louis Bayard, writing for Salon.com, described this adaptation as "the definitive version of a beloved literary classic", praising its fidelity to Dickens' original story, the strength of the supporting cast, and especially Scott's performance as Scrooge.