A Message from Atticus Finch and Me

“To Kill A Mockingbird” was one of my favorite books as a kid. I vividly remember listening to the book on tape in the car with my family, reading it by flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping and learning about it in my ninth grade English class. It is widely regarded as one of the most prolific American novels ever written, and has an unquestionable impact on modern literature. My sister and I used to argue over the book, because I always said that Scout was the most important character, while she favored Jem. These siblings, who squabbled similarly to us, mature in different ways throughout the course of the novel. Jem has a more concrete understanding of the unfolding events and their implications, whereas Scout sees the world through the eyes and morals of her father, Atticus. At one point after a frustrating day at school, Atticus tells her, “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” This is a seminal passage of the novel, and I took it to heart at the time, but I hadn’t seen this ethos played out until fairly recently.

I was at Frank with a friend the other day, and she began talking about the response to an article she shared on Facebook a few weeks back. The article was written by a black woman and explained why she did not participate in the Women’s March on Washington. Three women commented on her post, each of them white, saying that they did not agree with the article, essentially invalidating the author’s experiences. My friend was disappointed in her friends’ responses. Her point was that, while everybody is entitled to their own political opinion, refuting the basic truths of someone else’s life is just wrong. I was impressed by her response for a number of reasons, the first being that she focused on intention as opposed to personal attacks. Instead of saying the commenters were dumb or racist, she rationally explained that she was disappointed in the way her Facebook friends had responded to another person’s point of view. My friend was extremely deliberate in crafting a response that would allow the commenters to see why she shared the article. 

The two of us sat at a table for well over an hour, finally posting what we both felt was a firm but understanding response to the commenters. On our walk back home, she got a notification that one of these women had answered our comment. It simply said this: “You’re completely right. I went back and reread the article and the points she made aren’t really ones you can simply disagree with. She’s sharing her own personal experiences and I have no right to say she isn’t allowed to feel a certain way. Thank you for your comment, this gave me some perspective.”

The two of us nearly fell over in shock. In our polarized political world, I never expected someone to gain empathy for someone they originally disagreed with, especially online. It is so easy for us to comment, share and post because we do not have to look our adversary in the face, and it is even easier to misinterpret someone’s intentions through an online platform. I suppose my point is this: Harper Lee is particularly relevant in today’s political climate. Perhaps I still possess some of Scout’s naiveté – who we are as adults really does reflect who we were as children –  but I urge you all to take her father’s advice and see what the world looks like through another’s eyes. It may make all the difference.