Lessons from Atticus Finch (Lesson #2)

Atticus Finch looks over his neighborhood. He observes how others treat those they find “inferior” but chooses to react by not reacting.

Atticus lesson #2: Revenge is a bad idea, it’s useless and just not the right thing to do.

As discussed in the previous article, Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird broke his society’s conventions by representing a black man in court. As you can imagine, his peers did not quite agree with his actions, displaying their disgust through rather volatile actions (i.e. spitting in his face and threatening to kill him as he walks down the street). Today’s lesson is the rejection of revenge based on Atticus’ actions as he faced threats and ostracization.

Example #1: Atticus understood that he was the talk of the town for respecting and helping a black man. But Atticus understood something else: his actions were his alone, and they affected only his conscience. In Chapter 11 of the book, Atticus states, “They’re certainly entitled to think [what they want], and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

One could say this goes along with the value of treating others as you would like to be treated. As discussed in Part One, Atticus has a certain empathy and respect for mankind as a whole. Considering this, it is only natural he understand the necessity in letting everyone have their own thoughts/decisions and following what one feels themselves, because he alone is in charge of his actions.

Example #2: Mr. Finch set up his life on an honor system for one. But to extend his values, he taught his morally correct and empathetic attitude to his kids, Scout and Jem.  In Chapter 9 in the book, Atticus, aware of possible slandering his kids might witness, stated, “You might hear some ugly talk about [the court case] at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.”

The idea of holding your head high above the wrongdoings of others is a challenge most everyone has/does/will face in their lifetime; the value of avoiding petty revenge is one that can be applied in almost any aspect of life.

That being said, one major example of an action-reaction issue is the past year’s terrifying police brutality trend. Who in these cases could have taken the high road, a trail commonly walked by Finch himself? As a cop, did a citizen on the street disrespect you? Excuse what they say using your better judgement, Atticus style. Did an officer challenge you, a citizen, in a way you would deem unjustified? Fight with your head, Atticus style.

The focused point here is that we are faced with chances to find revenge and chances to find others succumbing to it. But, if we insist upon looking past these poor opportunities, we will find that what we see is Atticus’ vision of an imperfect world dressed in perfectly black and white morals. What we see is what we see, but it’s up to us to decide how we react to it.

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