I am a book lover – I have always been and will always be. Between the pages of a book, I have lived several adventures, met courageous heroes and spirited heroines, had close encounters with twisted villains and harrowing experiences with horrible monsters. A significant part of my character has been shaped by consciously and subconsciously imbibing certain traits and characteristics demonstrated by the people who live within the pages of inspiring books-some of them purely fiction, some that are stories based on real life (people and incidents), and others that are autobiographies or biographies.
So, it is not really surprising that this topic triggered a chain of thoughts where I pondered and wandered into the dim recesses of memory trying to identify a single character, incident or situation that inspired me. Even as my conscious mind objectively evaluated and discarded several candidates, I noticed that random thoughts kept circling back to the character of Atticus Finch, from the book “To kill a mocking bird”. This novel, by Harper Lee, won the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into an Oscar winning film. In 2006, the British librarians gave top ranking to this book as one “Every adult should read before they die”.
Atticus Finch is a lawyer, in the fictional town of Maycomb. The story takes place during the Great Depression (1933-1935), and focusses on the racial discrimination that was prevalent in that period. Atticus Finch is assigned to defend a Black American, who was unfairly accused and in need of fair representation and trial.
In a world of flashy heroes who perform dashing deeds of bravery, Atticus Finch remains an ordinary person with extraordinary insight into the working of the society he lives in. He is a character that we can easily relate to – a single father struggling to bring up his children alone, with insecurities about his parenting style – a man with a strong sense of ethics and principles that form the backbone of his character. He fights for justice, but his attempt does not result in success – rather, his attempt can be compared to a stone tossed into water. Even as it sinks, it disturbs the placid surface of the water and sends out ripples in all directions. So also, his representation and subsequent trial sent ripples of unease and introspection in an apparently peaceful and mature neighborhood, which in reality had some ugly and dangerous undercurrents of racial discrimination.
Rather than doing a character sketch here, let me use some of the quotes from the book that can explain why his character was inspiring to me.
“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.”
This is one of the hardest things to implement. We are generally so smug and sure that our perspective is always right. But if only we could put this into practice, and refrain from being judgmental, just imagine the effect on the people around us (our family, friends, and colleagues) and on the larger society too.
“Hold your head high and keep those fists down. Try fighting with your head for a change.”
Isn’t this what was preached and practiced by the Father of our Nation? If we could avoid knee-jerk and reflex responses (here the external stimuli mostly an provocative words or actions), if we could practice caution and deliberation, peace would rule more often than war.
“Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It is knowing you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through, no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
It takes a lot of courage to fight for something we believe in, especially when we know that the odds are against winning. But the attempts, however small, make a difference. . Like water on a rock slowly erodes it and changes it contours, the effect of what we stand up for will be felt over a period of time.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is that quiet voice in the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”
Courage is not only associated with daring feats of bravery, that are flamboyant and obvious. Courage is a state of mind. It goes hand in hand with hope and faith, and is often observed as the ability to rise up after being knocked down, time and again. It is the ability to regard failures as stepping stones and persevere in our attempts to success.
“We are blaming society, yet we are society. So to make it a better place, we must change ourselves first.” Recognizing this is the first step. But putting this into practice is very challenging. This would require changes in the basic DNA of our thoughts, which would then reflect in our behavioral patterns. But this change is imperative.
“People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.”
It is a well known fact that the same incident or occurrence can be perceived in several different ways. So, anything can be justified by interpreting data such that it conveys what we want. But the stark truth will remain in the center – good or bad, beautiful or ugly, we need to develop the ability to drill down to the truth rather than accept and hide behind perceptions and justifications.
“Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open.”
In one of the organizations I had worked in, we had a set of principles called grass roots wisdom. And one of them was to “Get all the liars into the same room.” This one used to work wonders when there were conflicting views, reports and dashboards. And it would work in other situations too, even among family and friends, to share grievances and work on resolutions together.
“Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets.”
Finally, this, to me, says it all.
We all know that integrity is demonstrated in the way we behave even when no one is looking. It is the way we behave when there is no teacher in the class room, when our leader is on long leave, when the neighbors are not around and when we are all by ourselves. It is displayed on the roads when there is no traffic police man and in the shops when there is no camera. Living with integrity is quite simply a way of life, and not a cloak to be donned in public.
So, here I have shared some of the reasons for finding the character Atticus Finch to be inspiring. It boils down to this – all we need to aspire to be, the destination that we need to travel towards, is only to be the best that we can be. This will be a life long journey, as there will always be some learning and unlearning to do.
“As Harper Lee rightly said, “Everybody’s gotta learn. Nobody’s born knowing.”