Scrooge’s school of tough love

No doubt about it, Scrooge was a miser. He turned down Cratchit’s request for taking off work on Christmas day, kicked his Nephew Fred out of his office for requesting charity donations, and generally pursued financial gain at the expense of his relationships with others. He generally frowns upon anything that might obstruct this pursuit of wealth, especially relationships with others. Fred would understand this side of his uncle well, after Scrooge berates him for falling in love. Scrooge is much more aware of Cratchit’s financial situation at fifteen schillings per week than the intangible benefits he might be receiving and sharing through his wife and four kids.

It was a Game called Yes and No, where Scrooge's nephew had to think of something, and the rest must find out what; he only answering to their questions yes or no, as the case was. The brisk fire of questioning to which he was exposed, elicited from him that he was thinking of an animal, a live animal, rather a disagreeable animal, a savage animal, an animal that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes, and lived in London, and walked about the streets, and wasn't made a show of, and wasn't led by anybody, and didn't live in a menagerie, and was never killed in a market, and was not a horse, or an ass, or a cow, or a bull, or a tiger, or a dog, or a pig, or a cat, or a bear. At every fresh question that was put to him, this nephew burst into a fresh roar of laughter; and was so inexpressibly tickled, that he was obliged to get up off the sofa and stamp. At last the plump sister, falling into a similar state, cried out: "I have found it out! I know what it is, Fred! I know what it is!" "What is it?" cried Fred. "It's your Uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!"

He generally brought gloom and melancholy to the community and his single-mindedness earned the title of a monster, even an “ogre” and “savage animal.” Building wealth through one-sided, opportunistic business deals may have been healthy for his bottom line, but they were a drain on everyone around him. Morally and emotionally, his bottom line was suffering and already draining those around him. Scrooge was in sore need of the transformation offered to him by the three visiting spirits.

But how did his transformation leave him, and the rest of the community? Yes, Christmas morning found Scrooge as a changed man, but this is a special day, one that comes only once a year. Even after a lifetime of aggressive financial construction, Scrooge’s resources are not inexhaustible. Like a child playing with his new toy, he answered the mood of Christmas day with his over-the-top shows of goodwill and infectious friendliness which would look creepy any other day of the year. After his phase of childlike exploration, what will happen once Scrooge reaches the limit of returns coming from his new sense of generosity and goodwill? Can we expect him to maintain the levels of exceptionally generous spending he displayed towards others on Christmas day? And how much benefit do his handouts provide aside from the impermanent plum-pudding flavored fix they give? Now, Scrooge has a golden chance to pay back some of the immense spiritual debt he has signed up for, by addressing material needs at their source.

"You see this toothpick?" said Scrooge, returning quickly to the charge, for the reason just assigned; and wishing, though it were only for a second, to divert the vision's stony gaze from himself. "I do," replied the Ghost. "You are not looking at it," said Scrooge. "But I see it," said the Ghost, "notwithstanding." "Well!" returned Scrooge, "I have but to swallow this, and be for the rest of my days persecuted by a legion of goblins, all of my own creation. Humbug, I tell you! humbug!"

Scrooge is a shrewd and skilled businessman, as well as a competent accountant. He has to have been, in order to be where we find him at the beginning of the story. He understands the harshness of the world, through lessons that began in his childhood. Some of his most valuable skills are his intense awareness of his surroundings, and ability to scavenge what he needs from the people and materials around him. Marley’s ghost gets rebuffed with Scrooge threatening to eat a toothpick in order to prove that the apparition can be explained in entirely physical terms.

Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker's-book, went home to bed. He lived in chambers which had once belonged to his deceased partner.

After Marley died, Scrooge moved into his office and used it as his personal lodging space. Way to consolidate, Scrooge. Cratchit’s house has four rooms, but we never hear about him accepting additional renters.

Obligations created by interpersonal relationships don’t escape Scrooge’s notice either. During his younger days, he recognizes that developing a relationship with a significant other will demand resources that might otherwise be applied to his pursuit of material gain.

"Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years," Scrooge replied. "He died seven years ago, this very night."
. . .
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.
. . .
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often "came down" handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Scrooge’s awareness of the physical world also extends within himself, as shown by his understanding of personal health. Looking closely, he appears to care for his body in the same meticulous way he tends to his business. It’s no coincidence that he has outlived his partner by seven years and is generally referred to as an old man. Scrooge knows how to moderate himself in food and drink, sticking to a reasonable meals at a local tavern instead of indulging as his finances might otherwise allow. He stays active outdoors, and is even recognized as having a sort of impermeability to weather. When looking at Cratchit’s wife and kids, we always seem to catch them either preparing or consuming a snack. Scrooge knows how to leave the dinner table when he’s done, foregoing meals that might overfill either his belly or his schedule.

Compared to Scrooge’s well managed personal finances, Bob Cratchit and his wife seem to be struggling along. Money is a lower priority for them and their four kids. Neither Bob nor his wife are ever mentioned as saving up for an emergency, or investing what Bob earns from Scrooge. While his wife is a skilled homemaker, her skills are limited to preparing foods and doing laundry. She offers little financial expertise, and no income.

The Cratchit children seem to be the biggest household expense. None of Bob’s able-bodied children Peter, Belinda or Martha are ever mentioned as having part-time jobs, even in a neighborhood full of opportunities. They seem to spend most of their time at home, where they learn the limited skill set provided by their mom. With the ability to work and experience gained from their mother, the oldest three Cratchit kids could easily find employment around their neighborhood. The Lord Mayor employs at least 50 servants, and even more during special occasions. Preparing meals and cleaning up after his many guests would fit well with their skill set. There neighborhood also has a poulterer, a grocers and bakery, three more places where these kitchen-savvy kids would fit in.

While Tiny Tim might be excused from this line of work for his physical disabilities, he has no excuse for not contributing. Being well behaved might be cute, but he doesn’t put it to work helping his family’s bottom line. With his ability to focus, Tiny Tim would make a good assistant to his dad at Scrooge’s accounting business. He has the patience to learn. Tiny Tim could do the most repetitive tasks and free up some of his father’s time, or increase his productivity enough to justify a pay raise. The experience he would gain at the office would prepare him for a professional career. With enough encouragement, Tiny Tim might become, early on, a responsible and reasonable businessman.

The transformed Scrooge would be the perfect mentor to provide this encouragement. As we left them, the Cratchit kids were less than engaged with their family’s and personal finances, content to follow their parent’s patterns of unguarded financial awareness. Suggestions and proddings from the now more well-received Scrooge might give the kids the motivation they need to pay attention to their futures. Developing a similar intolerance for idleness could help them avoid the financial problems that their father develops. The lessons Scrooge learned on his own, combined with his past reputation for efficiency and newly generous mindset make him a credible mentor. While Cratchit might not be capable of teaching these essential lessons to his kids, Scrooge is. Where the Scrooge of Christmas past wouldn’t have concerned himself with the futures of a few kids, the post-transformation Scrooge shows curiosity and caring.

Throughout the story, Scrooge shows us a broad range of personality traits and the abilities in relating to others. Starting out, he demonstrates his ability to sniff out a pitch for a donation, and quickly sends his nephew Fred away empty-handed. By the end of the story, Scrooge is doling out goodwill and kind regards to everyone he meets. Scrooge quickly learned how to use his own sense of goodwill and proved his ability to also be pleasant company. Falling back on his ability to put away pleasantries and focus on present business will still serve him well as a role model for the Cratchit kids. They need to develop their own prerogatives and ability to reject suggestions, requests and demands in order to be effective. In other words, when Scrooge wants to get something done, he is able to push other items off his list and work until the job is finished. His stoic sense dedication to a plan helps him focus on his business, and we never hear him complain or enter a despairing mood. Everyone in the more distractible Cratchit household could appreciate this lesson.

So how about those chains you formed in life, Scrooge? Don’t rush to cast them away, since strong chains can tow heavy loads upwards as well as tie them down. You have mastered lessons that have been missed and overlooked by too many around you. Sharing these with the community might be more valuable than all the coinage you can pass around. You answered the spirit of Christmas future and changed your destiny. Now you have a chance to change the destinies of those around you.

Take a look:

The Original:

A Christmas Carol

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