Your Favorite Christmas Hero Is a Terrible Role Model

The Lessons You Need to Learn from It’s a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) is called “the richest man in town.” He's selfless and concerned about the community. He puts everybody's needs above his own. The entire film is structured to show you that he’s a great role model.

But he’s not – at least, not financially.

That’s because, while George Bailey was rich in heart, he was a complete failure financially.

Too many Americans already believe that being rich is bad. It's a Wonderful Life does reinforce this myth. So do stories involving Grinch, Scrooge and Gordon Gekko.

I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show a few years ago. Following each broadcast, Oprah would have me stay to talk with her audience for an hour or so. During that session, a woman told me she felt guilty about saving money, because she felt having more money than others was bad.

"You're confusing wealth with materialism," I said. "It's not evil to have money. It's evil to love money."

You could see it in her eyes – and Oprah exclaimed to her, and to audience cheers, “You just had an a-ha moment!”

George Bailey could use one of those, too. He could have been selfless and good, with integrity intact – and still done better for his family financially.

If you don’t think he could do both, consider Oprah. Do you suppose she had more positive impact on society before she became a billionaire, or after?

George Bailey turned down Sam’s offer to invest in Sam’s new company. He could have bought enough life insurance for his stay-at-home wife and four children, but didn’t. When the stock market crashed he could have lent his life’s savings to the depositors of the Building & Loan, even at below-market rates, instead of giving his money to them for free. Someone in the crowd even says, "But George, that's your own money." He waved her off! I wonder how his wife Mary felt about that?

And, George could have accepted Mr. Potter’s job offer. George thought taking the job would have been selling out. But that gig, at $20,000 a year with a three-year contract, would have made George one of the wealthiest people in the country. Imagine all the good he could have done with that money!

The problem with George Bailey is that he has pride in his poverty. And we know what that resulted in ... George Bailey found himself in such dire financial straits, owing more money than he could afford to repay, with prison and scandal on the horizon, that he verbally assaulted a schoolteacher, yelled at his children, trashed his house, got into a fist-fight in a bar, wrecked his car, hit a police officer, and attempted suicide –which, if successful, would have left his widow and children destitute and his business a shambles.

And we’re supposed to hold this guy up as a role model?

As you watch It's a Wonderful Life this holiday season, talk to your kids about how they can be not just a nice guy but a rich, nice guy.

After all, money doesn't change people. It just exaggerates them. Money makes nice people nicer, and jerks become bigger jerks. Don’t believe me? Look at Oprah, one of the most beloved and generous figures in our society. And while you’re at it, look at Dan Snyder.

Give yourself the permission to create wealth. Give yourself the gift of a future that’s free of financial strife. And use that wealth to help those in need. George Bailey would be proud.