Empathy and To Kill a Mockingbird


To Kill a Mockingbird quote 1

“If you feel more important than any human being, think of only one thing your entire life: releasing your soul from this malady.”

Faouzi Skali 1953-

When I came upon this quote I immediately thought of  To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. In anticipation of July 14th and the release of Harper Lee’s 2nd book, Go Set a Watchman, I’m currently rereading To Kill a Mockingbird. I should without a doubt, be sleeping now, but as I sit here propped up on the 18 inches of bed that my long-limbed 7 year old granddaughter is affording me, I find that rereading it is much like settling into bed with a dear old friend, revisiting the events of the day in the quiet of the enveloping darkness and finding that your breath is syncing, as a warm ray of comfort fills your chest. Like the truest of friends, the familiar characters and I picked right back up where I last left them years ago, partly because I have held them in my heart all the while. In truth I dream of everyone holding them in their hearts. Atticus, Jem, Scout, Dill and Calpurnia teach and learn some virtuous lessons that in my humble opinion, our world could use a whole lot more of, including the fact that no one is more important than anyone else.

Atticus encourages Scout to be empathetic to all people when he says “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” Throughout the story Atticus encourages his children to consider others as unique individuals, all fighting their own battles and meriting tolerance and respect, no matter what station in life they abide in. The moral character shown in every interaction he has with others is the greatest gift he bestows upon his children. He’s a quiet man who truly does teach by example.

With Mr. Cunningham, who owes him money, he is patient and kind, wanting to save the man from the embarrassment caused by his debt. With young Walter Cunningham, Atticus and Calpurnia both admonish Scout to be respectful and not pay any mind to the fact that the starving, deprived child wants to pour syrup over all of his food. They tell her he should be allowed to do so without comment, out of respect because he is their guest.

When there is “high talk” all over town about the wrongness of Atticus representing Tom Robinson in court because of his skin color, he explains that he simply couldn’t live with himself if he did otherwise, showing that he believed Tom Robinson was a human being no better or worse than any other and had just as much right to a fair representation as all the self proclaimed high-faluting citizens of Maycomb. To Scout’s comment that he must be wrong because most folks thought he was, Atticus tells her they’re all entitled to think whatever they want but “…before I can live with others I have to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”  Atticus displays great integrity, showing his children that just going along with the crowd is never the “right” thing to do.

After the trial and Mr. Ewell and Mayella are revealed as liars, Atticus does the unthinkable in Jem’s eyes and doesn’t react to Bob Ewell spitting in his face.  Atticus tells Jem that Mr. Ewell was coming from a place of destroyed reputation and Atticus would much rather withstand his wrath than have him take it out on his children. When it comes to Boo Radley, the mysterious neighborhood legend, Atticus encourages the children to not listen to the rumors spread by folks. He asserts that, “People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.” They learn that tolerance for those who are considered different is important and in the end Scout and Jem learn just how wrong folks are about Boo, who like the mockingbird does no harm to anyone, just sings its sweet song.

As much as this post is a book review, it’s a reminder to myself and you that like a wise man once said, “We all wipe our a- – with toilet paper.” None of us have a claim to being more than human, more special or important than the person sitting next to us or the one floating in outer space. We may have different paths, look different, speak different, have different talents, skills, positions and possessions, but we’re all just humans, descendants of the same two people who were the first, none of us more important than the next, so let’s try our best to remember that and be kind.

Peace and Love

PS  If you live in the Melbourne, Florida area and are a To Kill a Mockingbird Super Fan like me, come to Barnes and Noble on July 13th, where I’m taking part in a nationwide read aloud. I’ll be reading aloud the last 30 minutes of the novel from 9-9:30 pm. If you live elsewhere, Barnes & Noble stores nationwide are having To Kill a Mockingbird Read-A-Thons on July 13th from 9:30am to 9:30pm in anticipation and honor of the July 14th release of the long forgotten sequel, Go Set a Watchman, which Harper Lee is said to have written first. At that time it was rejected and she is said to have gone back and written To Kill a Mockingbird!

 

 

 

 

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