Dear Drama Observers,
Here’s something from a holiday season past:
I’ve mentioned before—many times, actually—that dramas are fun to watch, but miserable when you’re in them.
This time of year, my wife and I love to watch A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. As you’re probably aware, there are numerous cinematic renditions, but my hands down favorite is the one made in 1984 starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. In my humble (and accurate) opinion, that version stays true to Dickens’ original telling more than any of the others. Plus, I just think it’s really cool to watch Patton playing Scrooge, but that’s not important right now.
A Christmas Carol is fun to watch sitting in our living room sipping eggnog, but no one inside Scrooge’s drama would’ve used the “fun” word to characterize the experience. He was nasty, miserly, and focused on money to the exclusion of any relational connections. Clinically, I think he would probably meet the criteria for a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder which is characterized by—among other things:
- Excessive devotion to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships
- Being overly conscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible
- Adopting a miserly spending style toward both self and others
- Viewing money as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes
- Showing rigidity and stubbornness
You know the story. People—most notably his nephew, Fred—had repeatedly reached out to Scrooge to no avail. Then one evening, his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, paid him a ghostly visit to announce that he’d be receiving three additional visits before sunrise by spirits representing Scrooge’s past, present, and future.
In the first visitation, the Ghost of Christmas Past reminded Scrooge of his previous relationship with Belle, a woman to whom he had been engaged as a young man. But as months turned into years, it became apparent to Belle that Scrooge would likely never marry her, being devoted only to wealth accumulation.
Fed up, Belle finally confronts Scrooge. Walking along in the snow one afternoon, the dialogue between them goes something like this:
Belle: Another idol has displaced me.
Scrooge: What idol has displaced you?
Belle: A golden one, Ebenezer. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master passion, WEALTH, engrosses you. Have I not? If there had been no understanding between us, would you seek me out and try to win me now, a dowerless girl with nothing but myself to bring to a marriage?
Scrooge: You think I would not then?
Belle: Oh, Ebenezer, what a safe and terrible answer. So characteristic of the careful man. Ebenezer, I release you. You are a free man. I let you go with a full heart. May you be happy in the life you have chosen.
At that point, Belle turns and walks away. Scrooge says to the ghost: “I almost went after her.” The ghost then says, “Almost carries no weight, especially in matters of the heart.”
Scrooge goes on to justify to the ghost why prioritizing the accumulation of wealth above his fiancé was entirely justified. The scene shifts and Scrooge is shown future Belle, surrounded by her loving husband and adoring children—offspring that might’ve been Ebenezer’s… had he gone after her.
But even at this point, the eyes of Scrooge’s heart remain as blind as ever. I have two points I’d like to make about this poignant tale:
First, Scrooge eventually did change but only after the scales fell from his eyes and he observed with full clarity the error of his ways. He’d spent his life pursuing short-term financial security but, in the process, forfeited the long-term richness of relationships and service to others. He became aware that, in Christian terms, he had gained the whole world but forfeited his own soul. Change presupposes awareness, and up to that point, Scrooge had none. But when he became aware, he changed.
Now, Scrooge was a tough nut to crack, so it took three highly skilled “therapists” to get the job done. The first therapist examined the impact of his childhood. The second helped him see the effects of childhood patterns on his current relationships. The third one—more “mercurial” than the others—didn’t say much but carefully guided Scrooge to truthful conclusions. He did a good job, but he was, I must say, really creepy. I’m not sure how he got licensed.
Sometimes, people like Scrooge change but only when the dramas they’ve used to make their lives work stop working. And it’s the resulting frustration that provides an incentive to change.
The second thing I’d like to mention has to do with Belle and her willingness to walk away from the drama—to leave Ebenezer standing alone on the stage and to re-start her life as a drama non-participant. She came to the difficult realization that she would never be able to reason with Ebenezer. But, she could unshackle herself from his drama snare and go on to live her life to the fullest. She told Ebenezer, “You are a free man.” But indeed, it was Belle who became free that day as she proclaimed, “May you be happy in the life you have chosen.”
I realize this story is fiction. But it illustrates the potential change effects of drama non-participation—where the Drama Person may start to see the truth and reality that’s always been vigorously denied.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!