01/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Scrooge As Spiritual Teacher: Wake Up Or Miss Your Life

I think Ebenezer Scrooge has gotten a bad rap long enough. This poor guy has endured nearly 200 years of negative press and it's about time we took another look. Every Christmas, we parade him about as the iconic villain, a symbol of greed and all that is most despicable about human beings.

While we know the end of his story, the enduring image of Scrooge is frozen in time somewhere prior to his famous Christmas Eve "awakening". Admittedly, the Scrooge we all hiss and boo never would have won any Mr. Congeniality contests, had there been such a thing in his time. But after all these years of being typecast as a villain, I argue that Ebenezer deserves vindication. Allow me to explain:

As we know, Ebenezer was a gnarly fellow most of his life, the poster child for Mean, Stingy and Ruthless, hardly admirable qualities. A financier who devoted his life to making and hoarding money, Scrooge had contempt for things like love, friendship, and most of all, Christmas. He was miserly and mean and couldn't care less about the well being of his employees, their families or anyone less fortunate than he.

Hardly a candidate for Nice Guy Of The Year award, much less vindication! So far, my case is not looking too good. Where are Sarah Palin's $165,000 makover stylists when we need them?

You might wonder, So why go to all the trouble to give him a makeover? Shouldn't we just leave well enough alone? After all, who would be our Christmas villain if we didn't have Scrooge? We'll get to that part in a moment.

Some Interesting Facts You Might Not Have Known About The Story Itself:

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, was written during a time when the old Christmas traditions were beginning to lose favor. The original working title was "The Sledgehammer" and Dickens intended the story to be a strong statement against the British government's changes to their welfare system known as the Poor Laws.

The book was an instant success, selling over 6000 copies in one week, (that would put it on today's best seller list) and is credited with keeping the Christmas traditions alive. Today, almost 200 years later (give or take 35 years) we still observe many of those same customs.

It was written to call attention to the social injustices suffered by the many who were driven into poverty during the Industrial Revolution while those who prospered thought their only social responsibilities were limited to paying taxes. Dickens wanted to highlight the moral obligation of society to provide for the poor, with the character of Scrooge embodying the selfishness and indifference of the upper class of that era.

Villain Alert and The Victorian Era Revisited?

Doesn't this back story sound strangely familiar? Are we recycling Victorian times? Were Dickens alive today, no doubt he could have written the same story based on our current economic conditions. I wonder what was the Victorian equivalent of Wal-Mart and Black Friday?

Or do today's corporate CEO's come to mind? Think of the Big 3 Automakers flying to DC in their private jets asking for a $25B (update that: $34B, update that: $125B) bailout. Or perhaps any one of the thousands of CEO's making 5000 times the wages of hourly workers today.

Do you see where we're going with this villain theme? No shortage of new candidates for the Villain of the Year award, I'm afraid.

Deeper Truths of A Christmas Carol:

While Dickens' original themes of social injustice and poverty still ring true today, there are other truths contained in this story. It points to a fundamental narrative woven throughout history and speaks to one of the most quintessential struggles of being human.

It's the story of fear vs. love, scarcity vs. abundance. It's the story of overcoming guilt, shame, pride and ego with the courage to face one's harshest critics and reconcile with the truth. It's the story of what it costs a human being to live without access to a generous, open heart and the impact on self and others. And best of all, it's a story of redemption.

It's easy to be blind to our own version of this story. Most people simply don't want to see the not-so-pretty truths about themselves. Neither did Scrooge. Like many people, he buried himself in his work. Indifferent to the needs of those around him, he didn't care if they were miserable, only that his own pockets got lined.

Luckily, the story doesn't end there. As we know, Scrooge had a dream on Christmas Eve in which some special visitors showed up, gave him a harsh look at his past and a preview of coming attractions.

Through the dream, we saw how Scrooge lived in darkness all his life. Flashbacks of his childhood revealed how lonely he was, with parents who didn't show love and school mates who shunned him. To protect himself, he closed his heart and spent the rest of his days living in the shadow of his own rejection. That is, until those auspicious Christmas Eve visitors arrived and gave him the "This is Your Life" wake up call.

In waking life, we rarely, if ever, see the unfiltered truth. Our beliefs cloud our ability to see what's really so and they ultimately become our truths. But as Carl Jung said, "Dreams are the language of the soul", so we best pay attention to them. And pay attention Scrooge did. He saw the end of the story he'd been living and it wasn't pretty.

Vindication Alert

Scrooge, having seen the error of his ways, also saw a new possibility. He saw that he could choose again and this time, he could choose not from fear and scarcity, but from love and generosity. And miraculously, he did!

My favorite scene is where he awakens on Christmas morning, pulls back the curtains that darkened his room and throws open the windows. Leaning outside, he breathes in a new life, greeting the world with child-like joy. We all know where the story goes from there. Scrooge does a 180 and redeems himself with his neighbors, the Bob Crachet family, and even becomes the adopted uncle to Tiny Tim. No more "Bah! Humbugs" ever escaped his lips again.

The power of this story lies in the message that it's never too late to awaken. Some people go to their graves and never see their own light, never truly knowing who they are. Yet it's possible to awaken on one's very last breath.

Dear old Ebenezer Scrooge, maligned as who we never wanted to be, brings us a most precious gift. Usually, we don't even think about him except at this time of year. But let his story be a reminder throughout the coming year, that love, generosity and redemption are only a choice away, that the heart yearns to open, our spirit longs for connection and that the greatest gifts of all cost nothing, but require everything.

As you celebrate this holiday season, offer up a toast to honor Ebenezer for being the perfect messenger that love triumphs over fear and that it's never too late to choose again.

If the classical icon of Nasty can make such a change overnight, surely, there's hope for the rest of us, including those current candidates for Villain of the Year. Now, that's audacious!

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