by KATE HUNTER
In times of trouble, some people turn to the Bible or the Koran, or to Twitter or Facebook, or websites like this one.
More and more, I’m turning back to books. Mainly I reach for To Kill A Mockingbird. I open it at random and ask, ‘What would Atticus do?’
Atticus Finch wasn’t a real man of course, just words beautifully arranged by a gifted writer, but his wisdom is real and it makes as much, if not more sense now as it did fifty-something years ago.
I picked up my copy again last night, exhausted after following the tawdry Alan Jones sideshow…
‘Well,’ (I’m paraphrasing Jones here) ‘I might have said something mean, but lots of people were mean to me first.’
‘Not as mean as you,’ the crowd yelled back, ‘You were super mean.’
‘Well, I didn’t mean to be mean publicly. And anyway, people pay me to say what I think and if that’s perceived as mean, then too bad.’
Blah blah blah.
What happened to turning the other cheek?
In all this, it seems to me the Prime Minister is the only person with the grace to do it. Is she too upset? Too angry? Too busy? Whatever her reasons for not engaging, I admire her reserve.
I tell my kids – as I’m sure plenty of parents do – it takes two to fight, but only one to stop it, and it doesn’t matter much who started it.
Today there are too many channels running fuel to the fires. Everyone wants to be right, everyone fights for the last word. We televise apologies and judge their sincerity. We call for boycotts and sackings, when the eloquence of silence would serve just as well, or better.
There’s a scene in To Kill A Mockingbird where an angry mob gathers in the Finchs’ front yard, trying to intimidate Atticus into giving up his defense of ‘that nigger.’
His kids were scared.
‘They wanted to get you, didn’t they?’ asked twelve year old Jem when the mob finally dispersed.
‘No son, those were our friends,’ replied Atticus gently.
Now, Atticus wasn’t talking about commenters on Twitter, or talkback radio hosts, but men who carried guns as easily as cans of Coke. He listened to them, talked with them, behaved like a reasonable man. He knew there would be no winners in the trial of a black man accused of raping a white girl, and that the only way to effect change was with persistent kindness.
Even when people insulted him and physically threatened his kids, he kept his fists down and his words pleasant. And he accepted being a part of a society that created the troubles in the first place.
‘This is their home,’ Atticus said when his sister suggested said the children should leave town until things calmed down, ‘We’ve made it this way for them, they might as well learn to cope with it. This (rape trial) is just as much Maycomb County as missionary teas.’
Later, when the father of the accuser spat in Atticus’s face all he said was, ‘I wish Bob Ewell wouldn’t chew tobacco.’
Atticus Finch remained friendly with people who used the word ‘nigger’, who condemned an innocent man to death, because he knew people change when they’re influenced by regular people living well, not by shouty mobs thundering outrage.
To put it in 2012 terms, he un-friended nobody.
Atticus Finch simply got on with his work, and with raising his kids to be decent people, in times far more threatening than ours.
Kate Hunter is an advertising copywriter with over 20 years experience and one Gruen Transfer appearance to her name. Kate is also the author of the Mosquito Advertising series of novels. You can buy them here.
Where do you turn to in times of trouble? (And it’s okay… we couldn’t read that sentence without singing the rest of the Beatles’ song either.)