The Timeless Lessons we can Learn From Atticus Finch

I like to think of myself as a learning machine. After all, I read a ton of non-fiction. For the longest time, however, I’ve largely avoided fiction.

After I finished a fiction book I didn’t feel like I was learning anything. I didn’t know what I could take away and apply to my daily life.

I was missing out on a vast source of worldly wisdom.

Now I’ve cracked the code and found a way to get more knowledge out of fiction books.

Let’s take To Kill a Mockingbird as an example.


I started reading the book after a friend said that he thought Atticus Finch was the perfect blend of human characteristics: tough and skilled, yet humble and understanding.

Then a light went off. What if, while I was reading the book, I just started to catalog a list of what Atticus did that made him so admired. What if I just built a repository of good behaviors and models? What if I ingrained these into my mind so that I could use them at some point in the future?


What made Atticus so admired.

He was trustworthy, principled, strong, courageous, fair, loyal and humble. And Finch was perceptive when it came to what we’d call “group social dynamics” — he forgives the individual members of the mob that show up to hurt Tom Robinson, a man he’s defending, simply because he understands that mob psychology is capable of overwhelming otherwise good people.

How many of us would be able to do that in the moment? Now I have in my repository at least one example of someone who did.

Finch exemplifies the kind of person and leader that we want to be around, whether it’s at work or play.

Here’s a sampling of what I pulled out and the “buckets” I put them in.

Seeing through the eyes of others …

“First of all,” Atticus says, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view —
‘Sir?’
‘ — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’ (p. 50)

Forcing people into new environments is a bad idea …

‘There are ways of keeping them in school by force, but it’s silly to force people like the Ewells into a new Environment.’ (p. 52)

Holding your head high … thinking with your head … and keeping your cool …

(Context) Atticus takes a case that he knows will put his children in harm because of who he’s defending.

Scout, you aren’t old enough to understand some things yet, but there’s been some high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn’t do much about defending this man. It’s a peculiar case — it won’t come to trial until summer session. …
‘If you shouldn’t be defendin’ him, then why are you doing it?
‘For a number of reasons,’ said Atticus. ‘The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold my head up high in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again.’
‘You mean if you didn’t defend that man, Jem and me wouldn’t have to mind you any more?’
‘That’s about right.’
‘Why?’
‘Because I could never ask you to mind me again. Scout, simply by the nature of the work, every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that affects him personally. This one’s mine, I guess. You might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change . . . It’s a good one, even if it does resist learning.’
‘Atticus, are we going to win it?’
‘No, honey.’
‘Then why — ‘
‘Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.’ (p. 129)

Rarely ask people for things …

Somehow, if I fought … I would let Atticus down. Atticus so rarely asked Jem and me to do something for him, I could take being called a coward for him. (p. 131)

I’ve pulled out more than this, however, we reserve that content for members of our learning community.

I just wanted to give you another way to look at fiction books.


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