Scrooge: “It’s not my business”

Early in A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by two men trying to raise money for charity. Scrooge asks if the prisons and workhouses are still working. The men say yes, sadly, many of the poor are in those wretched places. But these charitable men would like to provide some Christmas cheer to those in need: food and warmth.

Scrooge replies,

“‘I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.’

‘Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.’

‘If they would rather die,’ said Scrooge, ‘they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides–excuse me–I don’t know that.’

‘But you might know it,’ observed the gentleman.

‘It’s not my business,’ Scrooge returned. ‘It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly.'”

–Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

What’s striking to me is this: Scrooge’s attitude is common, even now. His business occupies him constantly only because he allows it to fill his time. How often do I use “I don’t have time” or “It’s none of my business” as excuses? Is this true? Or is this an excuse to ignore other people’s needs?

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10 thoughts on “Scrooge: “It’s not my business”

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. But as Lucie commented, it’s sometimes hard to know when we need to interfere (our help is actually helpful) and when we need to back away (our help would be detrimental to the person in a bad situation). I think we have to use wisdom.

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      1. Definitely. I used to feel really guilty when I didn’t/couldn’t help. I’ve learned to recite the serenity prayer in my head. It’s still hard, but that helps. We think only big actions matter, but a little compassion and empathy go a long way.

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  1. I recently had just this discussion with another young blogger. Her issue was that she finds people a tad TOO nosey and IN HER BUSINESS. I think there’s a major distinction between “being nosey and truly caring about someone and their needs”.The problem, in my humble opinion, is how to discern between the two while at the same time “honoring someone’s need for privacy.”There are times that I honestly believe that it is “none of my business”, though and have learned that sometimes staying focused on myself and my own needs is truly the healthiest action for everyone. Does that make sense, Laura?

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    1. Lucie, that makes a lot of sense. Some people in need also need privacy; though I’ll add that sometimes that “need” for privacy isn’t healthy and is an excuse to continue with destructive habits. (This was the case for me when I was bulimic and anorexic; I didn’t want others to know because a) I was ashamed, and b) I felt worse when others did know, because they didn’t know how to help me, and I thought they were gossiping about me behind my back.) At other times, needing privacy is legitimate, and others should honor that need.

      In the context of the Dickens’ passage, of course, Scrooge is refusing to see the poverty and desperation around him, things that he could help but doesn’t. For me, a parallel would be for me to refuse to see when I can help fight for justice, or help the poor, etc., and I use my mental illness as an excuse not to, even when I’m stable and could help.

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  2. “Mine occupies me constantly.” – And that’s the danger I find myself prone to at times too, Laura. I allow myself to get preoccupied with me, rather than focusing on God and paying attention to the [people he’s placed in my life that day (or week or month or lifetime). Dickens made that crystal clear in just one short scene.

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    1. Being preoccupied with self seems to be a problem for everyone! It’s easy to blame our self-occupied culture or time period for this, but the issue has been around since the Garden of Eden: we focus on ourselves, try to shift the blame for society’s ills onto other people, and forget to focus on God.

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