In a previous blog, we focused on the importance of storytelling -- from heroic tales told around tribal campfires, to the epic poetry of the ancients, to blockbuster movies like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Myth and story have allowed us to explore and sometimes answer the most profound existential questions. But few stories rival Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in terms of artistry and influence. Scrooge's overnight journey from the depths of miserly alienation to ultimate redemption reshaped the entire Christmas holiday. Before Dickens' story, there were no door-to-door Christmas carolers in London, no holiday cards, no festive family dinners, no day off from work, and no presents under the tree on Christmas morning. In many ways, Dickens' vision of Christmas is Christmas.
The author had a profound personal connection with the themes in his story. At the age of 12, Dickens' entire family was sent to debtors' prison, with young Charles forcibly removed from school and sent to a workhouse. Decades later, as a prosperous and well-respected author, his wife and children knew nothing of this dark chapter in his past.
Dickens wrote Carol not only to shine a harsh light on inequality and greed, but also to uplift. In spite of his childhood misery and mistreatment, he believed in the better and evolving nature of mankind, and wanted to focus on the human capacity for change.
In an increasingly global community, we are stewards of the earth, and of each other. Tackling widespread problems like poverty, disease, and climate change will require that humanistic orientation. Fierce debates obviously persist regarding governmental systems and policies, but individual competition at the expense of others is not a viable survival strategy for the planet as a whole.
Compassion and caring are hardwired in us, as evidenced by mirror neurons lighting up when we witness suffering. Miserly Scrooge doled out misery, and we're repulsed by it, while the redeemed Scrooge resonates as a symbol of transformation.
As in Star Wars, Scrooge was seduced as a young man by "the Dark Side" -- in his case, by a single-minded focus on amassing money, at the expense of love, family, and his own humanity. Even though separated by over 100 years, the two mythic tales have entrenched themselves at a deep cultural level. They show how compassion and love provide a path to redemption, from obsessions with power or wealth. These tales of fallen and redeemed characters resonate at our core. They echo back to beginnings of the human experience.
But our evolutionary past also creates the strife associated with tribalism and political division. Yet we are drawn to those who sacrifice to help others, sometimes risking and giving their lives. We call these inspiring men and women heroes. Their actions have transformative power.
Such stories allow us to recognize and rediscover our highest nature. Even the man-made construct of a New Year allows a mythic reimagining of who we are -- wiping old slates clean, becoming someone newer, better, and more humane. As with Scrooge's profound night of visions and visitations, each year we are presented with the possibility of renewal and reinvention -- for ourselves, and the entire planet.
One hundred seventy years later, Scrooge's visionary overnight transformation still shows us the way. Let the dreaming and the imagining begin.
Steven and Michael Meloan are authors of "The Shroud," a science-adventure novel exploring the spiritual impulse, tribalism and its manifestations in human behavior, and the intersection between science and spirituality: