Tag Archives: To Kill a Mockingbird

Empathy Closes the Gap

Finding ways to relate to the “other”

Bring anger and pride under your feet, turn them into a ladder and climb higher.- Rumi

In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, I believe we each have been deputized as ambassadors of good will. When things become so ugly, it is easy to get drawn into the rabbit hole of fear and contempt. While it is certainly important to speak out strongly against hatred, it is vital to stand as love. That is the strongest aspect of our being. Being able to align ourselves with our compassion will allow more people to recognize and come back to their own humanity.

Isis, neo Nazis, the KKK and similar terrorist groups represent a cancer that can claim us if we become disenfranchised from our hearts. Many people are drawn into those groups because of a prolonged isolation from love.

It becomes all too easy to put people out of our hearts when we are confronted by violence and atrocities fueled by ignorance, greed and fear. The motivation for us to strive not to give into hatred ourselves, is the toll it takes on our internal being, peace of mind and overall health. If we allow fear and loathing to dictate our speech and actions, the outer circle that we banish our “enemies” to, will start to contaminate the inner circle of our loved ones, as well as everything we hold dear.

I have talked to friends who have survived family abuse who said they finally came to forgiveness, not because they would ever condone what was done, but because it was the only way they could survive and have any semblance of wholeness.

One of the things, I believe, that has opened this floodgate of hate crimes is our increasing inability to talk to one another across a widening divide. While leaders have used fear of the “other” to gain personal power, average citizens are drawn into factions. They are carefully segregated and become calloused towards folks with who they might otherwise have been able to find common ground.

Professor of Sociology, Rob Willer, points out in his TED talk that many of us are going into our separate ideological silos. We watch different news, have different friends, we are reluctant to date someone from a different party and don’t want our children to marry across political lines. His suggestion for bridging the gap between us is what he calls “moral reframing.” It is recognizing that everyone has their own moral values. When you are speaking to someone about a button-pushing issue for them, use language that embraces their morals. Certain terminology that will allow them to let down their defenses long enough to actually listen to you.

I believe that life is, in part, a game of semantics. We all have a set of vocabulary words that we feel define our beliefs. We also have a set of words that set off flares for us. The key in this game is not to have the person you are trying to reach pull up the stakes of their circus tent and hit the highway on you.

“Moral reframing” will obviously be much harder to practice with people who have been indoctrinated into a hate group, but even within those dark circles, there are those who can still be reached.

I used to watch To Kill a Mockingbird every year, to remind myself what it means to be human. In one of the most powerful scenes, a small girl innocently dispels a lynch mob by talking kindly to one of its ring leaders, who seems to wake up and remember that he is a family man and a decent person at heart.

The time is now to start reaching out to those who have not yet reached the place where they are susceptible to becoming inhuman. This tragedy in Charlottesville, and the one in Barcelona, have shaken us up. There is a window of opportunity for us to start a conversation. I am not suggesting we start with the people perpetrating the violence but with people we know, maybe within our family, who belong to a different political party, who may be feeling the need to reach out as well.

We all feel innately that we are in the right. I was taught in theater school that when playing a villain, you do not play them as if they are choosing to be evil but make the audience feel, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

Rob Willer ended his talk with the words, “Empathy and respect.” These are the pillars that hold up the building we are all sharing. They are the key to every philosophical and religious understanding.

It is also only natural that, with the tensions we are retaining, with all we encounter in the news, that we will use humor to lighten our perspective. While I am a fan of certain political comedy, and applaud the comedian’s ability to spotlight truth in the face of tyranny, I also know that there is a certain point where I can find myself tipping into vindictiveness.

I recognize that when we continue to insult and hurt one another’s feelings, it escalates our collective antagonism. The result has become increasingly more violent. We can begin to find ways to relate to those we consider to be “other” in small ways. The Hindu teacher, Yogananda recommended that we become “smile millionaires.” I have personally found that a genuine smile offered without an ulterior motive, can dismantle walls.

Perhaps practicing “moral reframing” even before we look for the right words to say to one another starts with a willingness to admit that those “other” people are still people, even when they are consciously or unconsciously identifying as monsters. If we are not at the place where we can admit that yet, then we can start by becoming more human ourselves.

 

“I can see you are me in disguise, let me wipe the tears from your eyes.”- The Levins

 

360 degrees around Harper Lee

Last week I finished reading Harper Lee’s prequel sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird which is called Go, Set a Watchman. (It is a sequel but was written before her famous, award winning novel.) For a good ten years, Julia and I religiously watched To Kill a Mockingbird to remind ourselves what it means to be human. For me, that is nearly a perfect movie and it stirs not only my emotions but my conscience. 
Julia and I went on the first day the new book was released and bought it from the local bookstore which is happily called Pickwick’s.  We remembered being at Pendragon books in Oakland, CA at midnight to get the last of the Harry Potter books.  Pendragon was packed and there was an excitement and comradery in the air.  There will be very few times in our lives now where being in bookstore for the release of a physical book will be an event.
There has been a lot of controversy and criticism of Harper Lee’s new book and I did my best not read or listen to it before I read it myself.  I was worried that Atticus Finch, who said,  “I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes—baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you,” would be dethroned as a literary God of justice and stalwart humanitarian. Harper Lee manages to find her own conviction as a young woman and upholds what Atticus has taught her.  But this book is about understanding what it means to be fully human. 
My father taught me when I was a child to walk three hundred and sixty degrees around a person’s point of view.  When I was a teenager, I would come home ranting as if I was a sixties radical and my father would sigh and do his best to help me walk around the additional hundred and eighty degrees. 
There is a way to protest injustice while remaining compassionate and being empathetic to our own shortcomings. 
Here is one of my favorite protests:
One man with a Sousaphone ruins an entire KKK march
by providing them with a silly soundtrack.
Here’s to the prankster that is able to lighten the load of our collective folly.
Here’s to merging our conviction with a loving heart.

Frankenstein and the Torch Bearer’s of Life

We went to go see Danny Boyle’s (director of Slumdog Millionaire) Frankenstein filmed at the National Theater in London and shown in movie theaters around the globe. Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller who both currently play Sherlock Holmes on TV, (Cumberbatch/ Sherlock and Miller/Elementary) co-starred as the creature and the doctor, switching roles alternately. 

We saw both versions and they were amazing, but the production with Cumberbatch as the creature struck a reverberating chord with me. 
 
I found myself almost involuntarily weeping for the creature’s yearning to be allowed the most basic human dignity. It wells into the same response I have had watching Charles Laughton play the Hunchback of Notre Dame telling the beautiful Esmerelda that he saved her because, she gave him water and a little pity and Tom Robinson attesting to his innocence on the stand in 
To Kill a Mockingbird.  
 
It is poetry when someone is able to portray the ‘monster’ as a mirror to the part of us that is shunned for being different.  Instead of being discounted as an aberration, a number, an equation, an experiment gone awry, we are the torch bearers of life.
 
“All life is precious, even mine,” the creature says and reflects what a luxury it would be to have been given a name.
 
Mary Shelly, penned Frankenstein at 18 and was able to point out that our attempts to circumvent the nurturing feminine aspect of nature itself in the creation of life is and always will be tragic.  
 
The responsibility to nurture whatever life we bring in, in any form, will haunt us and comfort us in turn. 
 
 
Creating Frankenstein 13 min. Documentary (with spoilers ; )
 
Have a happy Halloween- may your light and darkness dance a merry waltz together.