My 10th graders and I just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird. It was their first read, my 7th or 8th….and it doesn’t get old. Some say it’s a civil rights novel; others know it’s way more than that. When a novel is written that well, you can glean out of it for years. That’s what I’m doing today. I’m thinking of the people who could benefit from being reminded of Atticus’s advice, and that is to try walking in someone else’s shoes for awhile. Oh how much better our interactions would be if we try to imagine what a situation is like from their point of view.
If you’ve read the book, you might remember that feisty Scout could scrap with the best of them. The nanny/maid Calpurnia was too strict with her, her new teacher Miss Caroline was mad that she came to school already knowing how to read, her brother Jem didn’t want her hanging around him at recess and Walter Cunningham got her in trouble at school so she shoved his face in the dirt at her first opportunity. Life is rough for a 6 year old. So, she pours out her troubles to her wise and gentle father who listens quietly and doesn’t reproach her.
I know a few people right now who are facing a relational conflict. I bet they wouldn’t mind a turn on that swing, getting kind advice from a man known to millions as calm-headed and wise. Thank goodness we can be reminded of what Atticus told Scout that day – and spent the novel trying to teach his kids – if you only try to think of what the other person is experiencing, you might not be so upset. It’s hard for us to do that. Don’t we think we’re always right? How could there possibly be another way to look at it, after all?
Last month I was in a crowded Aeropostle, squeezing my way through a narrow gap to get a different size shirt for my daughter. I had been shopping too long, was too warm, felt light-headed and thanks to low blood pressure, kept having to take deep breaths. Those breaths sound like irritated sighs apparently, b/c I heaved in a good amount of air just as I was squeezing by a mom and daughter, stroller in tow. The older woman gave me quite an acidic, dirty look. I so wanted to say, “Lady, don’t assume my breathing has anything to do with you. (way to assume the worst, btw!)” But it’s not so easy to explain an odd health issue like I have, in a crowded store at Christmas time, so I let her think what she wanted to think.
I’m not always good at this but I try to remind myself that in their shoes, things undeniably look different. And most often, people’s responses to us have less to do with us and more to do with them. (Glass half empty, anyone?) My husband is particularly good at slowing down, stopping to think, giving the other the benefit of the doubt – and believing that something else might be going on that is affecting things. I think he and Atticus would have been great friends. Meanwhile, I still have plenty of Scout moments where people just don’t make sense, life seems unfair and I need a calm and patient listener. Thankfully, I’m reminded again to practice walking in another’s shoes and hopefully, I can play ‘Atticus’ to someone else who’s tempted to rub someone’s face in the proverbial dirt.