If the Shoe Fits

Where did he get his morals?

Recently, I was involved in a reading group discussion on the seminal work ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee. Someone had raised the point that Atticus Finch, one of the book’s main characters, was the moral compass of the story. I’ve read this book at least twice, and have always made the same conclusion myself. But then the question came up: “Where did he get his morals?”

We began to discuss the idea that Atticus’ actions may have been moral in our eyes and in his eyes, but not in the eyes of his fellow townsmen. That his decision to defend the legal rights of an innocent black laborer seemed right to us in this day and age. But in those days — in that society — the most pious of Christians believed that all Americans were equal. All except the black people among them.

If we say that people define their morals by the societies they are in, then we can condemn Atticus’ actions. But if we say that one’s inner convictions define one’s morals, then we can condone the actions of someone like Adolf Hitler. And where do these convictions come from? Are they born within us when we are born? Or are they passed on to us by the societies we grow up in?

If they are passed on to us from our societies, do our choices become wrong when we immerse ourselves in a new society? Or is it the new society that we are part of that is wrong? If we choose to be stick to our convictions and be the duck amongst geese, does that mean we can judge and dismiss everyone who does not share our belief? And if we decide not to dismiss them, does that mean that we are betraying our beliefs?

Morality is neither black or white. It is in varying shades of grey. Which leaves a dilemma for a woman like me, about to taste my first sip of independence away from my family’s reach. Will I always define right and wrong the way I currently do? Or will I do so only if the shoe fits?