Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ponder: capable of imagining the loves of strangers

All these cases are illustrations of the central, familiar, moral insight of the book.  "If you can learn a simple trick, Scout," Atticus advises his daughter, "you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

For Lee, this point demands more than observation.  By actively treating people as individuals, they can respond with unexpected virtue.  In the book, Walter Cunningham is part of a lynch mob.  When Scout causes Cunningham to recall that he is a father, he walks away from violence.  Men and women can be better than the mob, when they remember their hidden dignity, their secret honor.  Lee defends the possibility of the awakened conscience.

Right now, the world of adults seems increasingly like Lee's Maycomb, with a tiny religious minority stigmatized and targeted for exclusion, and another minority being accused of being criminals and rapists, demonstrating the strangely sexual content of bigotry.  And though we now it is not quite right, there are few who can manage tears.  

Once again--maybe always--there is a great drama in what Lee called "the secret courts of men's hearts."  Let us hope with Lee that people are better than the mob and capable of imagining the loves of strangers.  And whatever the outcome, Atticus--more real than any living politician--urges us to see it through.
Michael Gerson, "Timely Insights from 'Mockingbird'" The Washington Post 23 Feb 2016, A17

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