Wednesday, June 1, 2016

From My Commonplace: Walking Around in Someone Else's Skin

" 'First of all,' he said, 'if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, 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.'"  (p.33)
" 'Atticus, he was real nice…'
His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.  'Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.'" (p. 323)
~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird was the book I took along with me on the plane for my recent trip to Texas for the AmblesideOnline Conference.  I had read it in high school (which honestly is longer ago than I really care to admit these days!) but not again since then.  I've been meaning to re-read it for a while, and I'm glad I finally did.  It is truly a powerful story, and sort of book-ended by the two quotes I've cited here, both conversations between Atticus Finch – a lawyer and true man of integrity in contrast to many in his small Southern community – and his daughter Scout.  Through the course of the novel, Scout watches her Father – and watches the reactions of the rest of the community around her – and learns some very important lessons about seeing people for who they really are and acting with integrity even in the face of opposition.  (I don't want to give away too much of the plot for those who may not have read it.  I highly recommend it if you haven't, or if – like me – you haven't since high school.  It's worth revisiting.)
One thing I sort of pondered as I read was just what it was that made Atticus stand out from so many others around him – what made him willing to go against the flow of his community and act according to his principles even though that meant acting in opposition to the deeply held ideals of most in his community.   One idea that struck me was the fact that Atticus Finch was a reader. And he shared that with his children.  Early on in the book there is an incident with Scout on her first day of school.  She gets in trouble with her teacher, who is annoyed that she has already learned how to read, a skill she picked up seamlessly from hours spent reading the paper in her Father's lap in the evenings.   The rest of the students in the class were non-readers, and even described as "immune to imaginative literature." (p.19).  Reading was not a part of their family culture or formative experiences.
During the Conference, one of the sessions was a panel of adult children of some of the members of the AmblesideOnline Advisory – the women who created the AO Curriculum.  These young women were raised on Charlotte Mason's ideas, great literature among them.  What did they gain from this upbringing?  One of the answers was as follows, paraphrased of course based on what I jotted down in my notes:
"I have the ability to look at things from more than one perspective, to have empathy and compassion, even for those I disagree with.  This is the gift of literature without comprehension questions.  It allows you to experience other things and to let those ideas simmer and stew without the need to form an immediate judgement."
It teaches you to walk around in other people's skin.
If nothing else, I hope and pray that this rich, literary education I am giving my children enables them to grow up to be people of integrity – people like Atticus Finch who are willing to stand strong in the face of an increasingly hostile culture.

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: The Daily Office Lectionary Readings and Prayers from The Trinity Mission
 Theological: On The Incarnation (St. Athanasius, with introduction by CS Lewis)
AO Book Discussion Group: I Promessi Sposi (Manzoni)
Personal Choice: Mrs Miniver (Struthers)
Poetry: Collected Poems 1909-1962 (TS Eliot)
With my Hubby: Emma (Austen)
Family Read-Aloud Literature: Little Britches (Moody)
*I am also reading Charlotte Mason's Volume 6 for a local CM book club, but these meetings are infrequent, and it is my third – or fourth? – pass through it and so I just read the brief section assigned as our meetings come up.   

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  1. Love this, Jen! You and Dawn are making me want to read TKAM again - Atticus is one of my favorite literary characters. :)