Where’s Atticus Finch?

The current battle over the Supreme Court nomination offers the opportunity for a rich dialogue with others, particularly young people, about how youthful choices have adult consequences. Let’s face it. This stuff is not easy. Where do we start? In this blog, I am offering a way to begin, and then some movie clips from To Kill A Mockingbird where lawyer Atticus Finch remains steadfastly connected to integrity, responsibility, and the value of a single human life.

In my work with individuals and teams, I tackle some difficult topics raised by them. I’m a guide, not a policeman. I’ve discovered that making it safe to ask questions or to share and be vulnerable, is more beneficial than “telling” them what to do. Sometimes they seek options, and as creative problem solver, I am good at offering potential choices. “Have you thought about this…?” or “What if we tried this…?” Then they decide. The value for them lies in the dialogue. With that in mind, here are some conversation thought-starters that you might try yourself.

THOUGHT STARTERS

1. We can speak about the importance of coming forward if they are attacked, and that there is no shame in doing so. As we’ve seen, shame is the most powerful of emotions. The shadow of shame stays with us for a lifetime and it fades only when we shed light on it by speaking with others about what happened. Doing it sooner is better than doing it later.

2. We can speak about courage and confidence to do what they believe is right. I cover that topic in my work with athletes. Female athletes are surprisingly low in courage and confidence (as measured by the StrengthsFinder). Therefore, identifying what gives them courage/confidence, and what undermines it, is valuable to them. Telling someone that they must have more courage and confidence is a non-starter. That’s like saying, “You need to be taller.” What do they have in their internal motor that they can tap into to behave with courage and confidence? It’s different for every single person. We can measure it and then discuss it. (Side Note: I am hosting a Destination Unstoppable for Coaches Conference on Oct 27th and this topic will be included. Email me at Maureen@MaureenMonte.com and I’ll send you a brochure or click here to view the event.)

3. We can speak about the importance of respecting others, including what that looks like. The idea of “youthful indiscretions” is relegated to the past. What does respect look like today? Respect for self, respect for others? What does it mean in your family? Is there a line? What are our options when the little voice inside of us says, “This isn’t right.” or “This is going too far…”  or “I want outta here!” There is no shame in acting on any of those feelings. Don’t assume they know what’s best. Guide via dialogue. One of my favorite posters read: Empowerment without guidance is neglect. 

4. We can speak about how drugs, alcohol and a “others did it, too” mentality can ruin lives. You’ve heard the phrase, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” I believe that. I thank my lucky stars that I’m not being judged by some of the things I did in high school. We can help young people minimize mistakes by talking about them – before they happen – because they will happen.

5. We can speak about how behaviors are contagious. Just because a group of people are doing something destructive doesn’t mean we have to join in. Mobs provide cover for those who wouldn’t dare do the same thing if they were standing alone. “Would you want this to happen to your brother?” or “Would you want this to happen to your sister?” can help personalize and connect with what is otherwise a remote concept – something that was done to someone we don’t know.

6. We can speak about the importance of truth and not judging anyone based on the color of their skin, where they were born, their financial status, or whom they love. There are good people and bad people in all walks of life. The moment we begin assuming a certain block of people is evil, we’ve lost it. That’s how discrimination happens. That’s how genocides and The Holocaust happen. If you don’t want to be judged based on the color of your skin, your gender, or any other factor, don’t do it to others. If you do it to others, you mustn’t protest when it is done to you or someone you love. This topic is the focus of Atticus Finch’s journey for truth in To Kill A Mockingbird.

7. We can give them people and places for them to reach out to if they can’t speak to us. We can arm them with information, including running through real life scenarios so that they don’t have to project the lessons we might be tip-toeing around.

You may have other (and better!) ideas and topics. If so, go for it!

IMPORTANCE AND IMPACT

If we’ve learned anything from the last few weeks, the above topics are more important to a young person’s survival and future success than anything they learn from chemistry, English, history, or calculus (and it’s SO MUCH easier to focus on those topics, isn’t it?) Good grades won’t prevent the consequences of bad choices. A Heisman trophy won’t prevent the consequences. Money won’t. Nothing will.

Consider watching To Kill A Mockingbird with kids (13+ based on language and scary scenes, in my humble opinion). Below are a few cuts from the movie, all less than a few minutes long. Many of them reflect the same emotions and conflict our country is battling with today. Who do we believe? What does the evidence show? How do we behave in groups to influence the outcome? As you watch these clips, do you see parallels to what’s happening today?

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

The back story: Atticus Finch is a deeply respectable lawyer in Alabama during the Great Depression. Many people in this tiny southern town owe him money, and they often pay not with cash – there is no cash to be had – but with produce, or walnuts. He is a widower, and is raising two kids, Jem and Scout (a girl). The story unfolds through Scout’s eyes. Eventually, the town is torn apart by a crime. Tom Robinson is accused of beating and raping a white young woman, Mayella. Because Tom is black, he is presumed guilty before the trial begins. Atticus Finch is assigned as the attorney for Tom Robinson.

Clip One: Caution- this clip has a racial slur. Atticus meets Mayella’s father

Clip Two: Tom Robinson goes on trial. See Atticus both cross-examine Mayella (who is operating from a position of shame) and demonstrate why Tom Robinson might not be the guilty party in this magnificent court scene.

Clip Three: Atticus speaks to the all-white jury about their responsibility.

Clip Four:  After Tom Robinson is jailed, a mob comes to deliver justice. Particularly compelling is the role the children play in the outcome of the incident.

Clip Five:  Watch how the African American community shows respect for Atticus, despite knowing the inevitable, unjust outcome of the trial.

There’s never been a better time to watch or re-watch “To Kill a Mocking Bird” because we need more Atticus-like leaders in our society. Perhaps we can begin cultivating them by engaging in conversation about leadership and how it serves humanity. The worst thing we can do is be silent and hope young people get it some other way. Hope is not a strategy. Offering dialogue and examples, listening and asking questions, can help our young people grow up to be like Atticus in their own unique way.

Maureen Monte

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