We Are All Makers
Over the holidays, my family and I had the chance to see the Tony-winning adaptation of A Christmas Carol in San Francisco's Golden Gate Theatre. Most readers are undoubtedly familiar with the Charles Dickens novella. Its protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a London-based businessman known for his spiteful and miserly ways. One evening he is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner who warns Scrooge that he still has a chance to redeem himself in this lifetime. Then, in turn, Scrooge is visited by three separate spirits – the Ghost of Christmas Past who reveals the impact of Scrooge’s emotionally abusive father; the Ghost of Christmas Present who shines a light on Scrooge’s truly deplorable ways; and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come who foreshadows Scrooge's death as a lonely, unhappy man. The effect of these apparitions and the lessons they offer are profound. Scrooge is transformed, fully embracing a life of generosity, kindness, and love.
In many ways, A Christmas Carol is a simple tale of redemption. Yet there was a line in this particular adaptation that revealed the story's psychological depth: “We are all made, and we are all makers.” The story points to a simple, yet powerful, truth. Each of us is a product of our past. In this sense, we are made, just as we see how Scrooge's parsimony was the product of a childhood of poverty and debt. At the same time, each of us has the capacity to free ourselves from the chains of the past and to choose a future of our own making. In this sense, we are all makers, just as we hear Scrooge, freed from the weight of his past, declare: “I am as light as a feather, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A Merry Christmas to everyone! A happy New Year to all the world.”
As we begin this new year, we can all take this lesson from A Christmas Carol and continue to liberate the parts of us that were made and no longer serve us. And in their place, we can continue to construct new parts that allow us to experience the lightness and joy of the remade Ebenezer Scrooge. We are all makers, after all. We are all makers.
You may have noticed my use of the word “parts” in the concluding paragraph of this weekly email. It was intentional. Understanding that we are made up of parts is one of the most profound contributions to the field of psychology. And there is no one better at explaining this than Richard Schwartz, the founder of an approach to understanding the mind called Internal Family Systems. I highly recommend his most recent book No Bad Parts.
Over the break I finished reading The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. Great works of fiction have the potential to reshape world views. This book did that for me. It is a broad indictment of our current political, economic, and social systems without the typical polarizing hyperbole, and thus it is effective.
Finally, I finished reading a gem of a new book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. It is a much-needed, effective challenge to the current paradigm that suggests we must use time more efficiently to be more productive. It suggests a much more radical, and I believe sane, reorientation to time. It will undoubtedly influence how I let time use me, as Burkeman puts it, in the year ahead.