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What Rudolph’s Nose Reveals About Society

You know the song. And the story. After all, Rudolph is the most famous reindeer of all, right?

All Rudolph’s peers shun him because of his shiny red nose. No reindeer games for poor Rudolph. Until it was discovered that the shine from his nose could cut through the fog and lead Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve.

For years Rudolph was seen as a quaint story that every kid resonates with because every kid has been picked on for something. But, this Christmas a number of people have attacked Rudolph’s story as misogynistic, bigoted, and normalizing bullying. Others have said that while bullying is present in the story, it’s resolved in the end and should be seen as a positive morality tale. If we listen carefully, though, it reveals something about our society that’s both deeper and darker than simple bigotry or bullying.

Run through the story in your mind one more time. Notice at what point Rudolph’s reputation shifts. When do the other reindeer move from laughing and name-calling to loving and shouting with glee? Only when Rudolph’s nose is seen as having a purpose that benefited the larger group. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer reveals that the society of elves, toys, and reindeer residing at the North Pole are pragmatists of the worst kind. And the fact that we’ve never noticed it, shows just how comfortable we are swimming in the same waters.

Pragmatism is a view of the world that assigns value based on results. Does it work? Then it’s good. If it doesn’t work, it isn’t good. You can see why this could be problematic. Murder-for-hire works. It allows me to make a large amount of money with a minimum of effort. It’s good. Giving to the poor only works if it gives me a good feeling. Otherwise why do it?

But the reindeer’s pragmatism (and ours, I would argue) goes a step further. It assigns value to people based on results. Does this person provide results for us? Then they are good and we want them around? Do they take more than they give? Then they’re bad and should be shipped off to the Island of Misfit Toys.

While few people are as bold in their statements, most of us feel this way to one level or another. You have always heard it in how people talk about the poor and the disabled. People have to “help themselves”, “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, and “do their fair share”. For those who are truly unable to profit society we have social security which ensures they will live in grinding poverty for their entire lives.

In recent years this crushing pragmatism has spread to infect our view of a growing list of issues. Artists, unless they are immediately famous, are told to “get a real job and contribute to society.” Education is no longer seen as a worthy endeavor on the path to wisdom and understanding. It is now simply a way to learn the information and obtain the skills needed to get a well-paying job. Employees have moved from being personnel, something to be invested in, to being “human resources” that are seen as a cost center.

The danger message flashing from Rudolph’s nose so bright is this: If we don’t value people it will become easier and easier to destroy them, and ourselves.

This Christmas I remember that Jesus, through whom all things were created, weighed in on the value of people. He left the throne of heaven and suffered and died for us. He didn’t do this because we were valuable. He did it because he loved us in spite of what we were. But in doing it, he set our value infinitely high. People matter. Not because of what they can do, but because of what Jesus has done.


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