Great literature tells us stories that are timeless and remind us of our responsibility to our fellow citizens. Often children are the messengers of these messages. And often related current media can accent these messages with even greater clarity. Some might reject such comparisons, but I like to think that lessons are everywhere if we are receptive to their messages.
Harper Lee’s timeless classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, still resonates today. The TV show, Friday Night Lights, about high school football in Texas delved deeply into the humanity behind the scenes and off the field. Let’s look at the passage below from To Kill a Mockingbird to consider two things—blind spots and the innocence of children— and then tie in the Friday Night Lights tagline, “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.”
In the passage below, Atticus Finch is talking to daughter Scout (age 8) and son Jem (age 10) about Mr. Cunningham. Atticus (with the help of his children) had just averted a probable lynching by staying at the jail overnight and keeping a band of drunken men (Mr. Cunningham and others) away from the prisoner/accused, Tom Robinson.
SCOUT: I thought Mr. Cunningham was a friend of ours. You told me a long time ago he was.
ATTICUS: He still is.
SCOUT: But last night he wanted to hurt you.
ATTICUS: Mr. Cunningham’s basically a good man. He just has his blind spots along with the rest of us.
JEM: Don’t call that a blind spot. He’da killed you last night when he first got there.
ATTICUS: He might have hurt me a little, but son, you’ll understand folks a little better when you’re older. A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man. Every mob in every little Southern town is always made up of people you know—doesn’t say much for them, does it?
JEM: I’ll say not.
ATTICUS: So it took an eight-year-old child to bring ‘em to their senses, didn’t it? That proves something—that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human. Maybe we need a police force of children…you children last night made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough.
We all have blind spots Atticus reminds us. Blind spots are things that we cannot see because we let our emotions blind our rational thoughts. We get so entangled in our perceived distrust or hate of something, some person or some people that we fail to see the big picture and/or recognize that we could be wrong. We fail to understand the words, deeds or actions of others in the context of “standing in their shoes” exercising empathy. We fail to view the world through a different lens that might open our eyes and erase our blindness.
Mr. Cunningham’s blind spot was that he was sure (in his drunken state) that the accused was guilty and deserved to die. He had no knowledge in fact to prove Tom Robinson’s guilt but the fact that he was an accused black man was enough for him. What a sad state that so many people had the same blind spot—mobs often do. The mobs at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 are an unfortunate recent case in point. Blind spots can be truly devastating in terms of misguiding our own words, deeds, or actions.
Atticus also mentions that his children helped Mr. Cunningham see the situation in a different way—you children last night made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough. Isn’t it interesting how the words, deeds and actions of children can have a dramatic positive effect on the behavior of adults? Their innocence can often pierce the false and seemingly impenetrable armor of adults, exposing their shallow and inappropriate behavior. Their innocence can be the key going forward.
My thanks to Harper Lee and her perceptive telling of the foibles of human nature. Perhaps it is trite to invoke a pop culture phrase to complement her writings, but I think that it sums it up so well. Coach Taylor’s charge to his football players before every football game on Friday Nights Lights of “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” essentially summarizes the dialogue between Atticus and his children. The coach’s exhortation to his players before they left the locker room is so much more than just a pep talk to “go get ‘em” and win. His instructions would serve us all well as we go forth every day and be consistent with a modern-day Atticus Finch.
Indeed, Clear Eyes (no blind spots), Full Hearts (stand in someone’s shoes) = Can’t Lose. Put me in coach!