The wonderful givenness of life

Published December 22, 2023

WORLD Opinions

Individuality thrives by expressing the gift of our shared human nature

’Tis the season for Christmas movies, including the beloved 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey is bent on escaping the givens of his small-town life in Bedford Falls—from his apparently dead-end family business to the seemingly shallow interests of the girl next door. “I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world!” he declares as a young man.

In his quest for individuality, George doesn’t make an entrepreneurial venture in plastics (like his friend Sam Wainwright) or achieve great feats in combat (like his brother Harry). Instead he assumes the family business and marries the girl next door. But that turns out to be more than mundane, as his financial-turned-identity crisis reveals. In the end, George’s life is shown to be indispensably unique. His individuality leaves its greatest mark in all the good he made of those small-town givens of work, family, and friendship.

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Jennifer Patterson is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her work focuses on projects related to religious freedom and overcoming poverty, drawing on her more than 25 years of experience in public policy.

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