Posted by: Christine Johnson | December 4, 2008

Complicit?

Yes, it’s time for me to rave about It’s a Wonderful Life again.  I thought I’d get through a year without re-hashing my favorite movie of all time, but I saw something new this year.  Plus, I have been thinking since last year about a particular character who is nameless and has no lines that I can recall.  He’s billed simply as “Potter’s Bodyguard,” and he is one of the more despicable characters in the movie.

This bodyguard has the simple job of pushing Potter to and fro in the wheelchair to which Henry F. Potter is confined.  On film, that is about all we see him do.  But his character fascinates me.
What kind of man is he?  Well, perhaps he’s really hard-up for money, but it isn’t an excuse for his behavior.  He stands by and watches as Mr. Potter cheats, swindles, and lies to get his way.  The worst is when Uncle Billy mistakenly folds his deposit of $8,000.00 into Potter’s newspaper and drops it into his lap on Christmas Eve.  The bodyguard sees Potter open the paper and find the money.  He pushes him back to the door, but not through it.  He brings Potter back to the desk with the money, and he never says or does anything to help.  He never does the right thing.
The Bailey family is nearly ruined over this theft – motivated by sheer hatred on Potter’s part – and this man does and says nothing.  He is silent.  
It’s said that critics in 1946 did not like the idea that Potter got away with his theft and went unpunished.  It’s disturbing, true, and it’s not the point of the film to bring him to justice.  Rather, the movie’s goal is to help George see that his vocation – his life of sacrifice as son, brother, husband, father, nephew – is one that has reaped benefits for everyone around him.  He needs to understand that his life – as mundane as it seems to him – is glorious and full of worth.  
However, this shouldn’t stop us from contemplating Potter and his accomplice.  Clearly, the bodyguard has opportunity to do what is right and notify someone that Mr. Potter has stolen money from the Bailey Building and Load (embezzelment!), but he clearly eschews that idea in favor of monetary reward (his job).  And so, the bodyguard’s negligence also makes him guilty in the thievery.  His is a sin of omission.  He could have stopped the persecution of the Bailey family, but chose not to, probably on the grounds that if he did so, he might lose his job.  But what does it benefit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?
In the same way, many of us are silent while unspeakable crimes are being committed.  Or we look the other way for some other kind of benefit to ourselves.  Look at the election last month.  How many people say that they wish abortion could be limited in some way, and yet continue to vote for the party that promises more abortions and abortion rights?  Fewer, if any, restrictions?  More than half of the country says they favor more restrictions in some way.  But do they vote that way?  Who speaks up for the children who are being murdered?
In this last election, a majority of people who self-identify as “Catholic” voted for the most rabidly pro-abortion man to ever run for president.  His administration picks reflect his view that abortion needs to be legal and available and paid for by you.  It’s not like this was a secret, his support for abortion.  He was proud of his pro-abortion bona fides, and even argued with soon-to-be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about who was more pro-abortion.  (Planned Parenthood came to his defense.  After all, he promised to help their cause as much as he could.)
And yet polls show that people “didn’t vote based on values” this election; they voted about the economy.  Economies go up and down – that’s
 how they work – but values are what you keep all the time.  Which means that if you vote against your own values, you don’t really hold that as a value.  If “values” are your priciples or standards of behavior, and you vote against them, then you have shown your true values.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again: people always vote their values, and when times are tough, you find out what those values really are.
Just like Mr. Potter’s bodyguard showed us.  

Christine

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