The Secrets of Understanding Through Compassion and Kindness “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen,” are the words of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, psychiatrist and author of On Death and Dying. In Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, several characters have been able to accomplish this beauty of understanding.
The aspect of understanding in these people do not appear without experience. It only flourishes in a person’s heart through the experience of understanding others. Because of this, when people truly understand one another, their hearts are lit and opens to a new world of compassion and kindness. Those who are able to do this, do not judge others, forgive, and respect other people’s perspectives. Only then can people truly be beautiful. When an abundance of sincere kindness and thoughtfulness exists in people, they are able to condone the actions of others.
In the story, Atticus is able to forgive others for their actions when they insult him because he is helping an African American man in court. For instance, Cecil Jacobs announces in the schoolyard that, “Scout Finch’s daddy defended niggers,” (Lee 74). Instead of being angry after being Cecil insults him, he calmly replies to Scout, “This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we are fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home,” (Lee 76). Atticus is able to forgive others, even though they insult him.
He knows that other people are going to insult him, but they are people who can be forgiven. His heart is so full of sincere kindness and sympathy that he is able to forgive someone who insults him very harshly such as Cecil Jacobs. Atticus is able to understand that everyone can say things that are rude or hurtful, but at the end, these people are his friends. Everyone in Maycomb is not fighting the Yankees anymore; they are fighting each other. Atticus knows that no matter what the people of Maycomb do to each other, they all still share one home and that unites them.
Furthermore, Atticus is also able to forgive Bob Ewell for spitting tobacco on his face. When Atticus’ son Jem asks him why he did not do anything, Atticus says, “Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute… He had to take it out on somebody, but I’d rather it be me than that house full of children,” (Lee 218). Bob Ewell is not a very respectable man; he beats his daughter and wastes all of his wages on alcohol or tobacco. Bob Ewell is already taking his anger out on his daughter, Mayella Ewell. Atticus does not want Bob’s anger to continuously target children like Mayella.
Bob’s anger still remains and Atticus does not mind the anger affecting him rather than Bob’s children. Similarly, Scout is able to convince Uncle Jack to not tell Atticus the real reason why she beat Francis even though it stains her father’s honor. Earlier, when Atticus is talking to his children, he tells them,“When summer comes you’ll have to keep your head about far worse things… it’s not fair for you and Jem… but… when you and Jem are grown, maybe you’ll… [have] compassion and some feeling that I didn’t let you down,” (Lee 104).
Since Atticus tells Scout to “keep her head down” she is reluctantly able to let go of the fact that Francis insults her father and that he even lies about it. Scout is able to forgive him for her father’s sake. The relationship that Scout currently has with her father is strong enough that it can surpass the words of Francis. Sometimes, it is hard to forgive people for what they do. Forgiving, however, is almost always the right action to take. Moreover, people who are compassionate and kind also refrain from criticizing other people if they do not possess accurate information. Jem is one of these people.
Unlike the majority of the people at Maycomb’s courthouse jury, Jem is able to differentiate between lies and the underlying truth. This causes innocent young Jem to question Atticus about why Tom Robinson is not a free man and Atticus replies, “If you had been on that jury, son, and eleven other boys alike you, Tom would have been a free man,” (Lee 222). Jem is able to see past Tom Robinson’s race like his father, Atticus because Tom is convicted unjustly. Despite the fact that the majority of Maycomb supports Bob Ewell when the evidence is clearly more favorable towards Tom Robinson, Jem believes that Tom Robinson is truly innocent.
Jem does not confide in the racial prejudice of Maycomb. He is shaken emotionally so much at the conviction of Tom Robinson that he cries. Although Tom is innocent, it is his skin color that renders him guilty. Tom really would have been a free man if eleven other boys like Jem were on the jury. Likewise, Dill is able to see through Mr. Gilmer’s altruistic acts and also sees Tom Robinson as innocent.
After everything is over at the Maycomb courthouse, Dill says, “ ‘It was just him I couldn’t stand,’… ‘That old Mr. Gilmer doin’ him thataway, talking so hateful to [Tom]… It was the way he said it made me sick, plain sick… Hasn’t anybody got any business talkin’ like that,’ ” (Lee 198-199). Dill is disgusted by the way Mr. Gilmer is treating Tom Robinson. Most of Maycomb would not find any act of cruelty in Mr. Gilmer’s actions because Tom is African American. Dill, however, is able to prevent himself from judging Tom Robinson. He sees Tom Robinson as an ordinary man. He is the same as everyone else. Mr. Gilmer, on the other hand, believes that he is superior because he is Caucasian.
Dill is one of the few people who is able to see past the racial prejudice that existed in his time period. In a similar manner, Atticus also does not judge Mayella. He understands her and instead tells the people in the courthouse, “She has committed no crime, she has [only]… broken a… time-honored code of our society, a code so severe that… [she is now] unfit to live with,” (Lee 203). Atticus is also able to see past the rigid social code of Maycomb and understand Mayella’s situation.
He does not shun her because she had the courage to break the “time-honored code. She has her reasons and because of that, she is beaten by her father, Bob Ewell. Atticus is able to connect with Mayella because he also broke the “time-honored code” when he helps an African American man in court. This allows Atticus to see past the cover of Mayella’s actions allowing him to understand her. When people stop themselves from judging others, they can see past the social norms and see what is right and wrong. In addition, when solicitude and care appear in people, are able to understand other people’s perspectives.
Compassion creates a deep understanding of other people such as when Atticus tells Scout about a person’s true colors. “You never really understand a person… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it,” is what Atticus replies to Scout after she tells him about her misfortunes at school (Lee 30). He explains to her that she herself could see what a person’s true nature is. Scout’s views of a person should not be based on first impressions; she should, at least, attempt to view ideas in their perspective. Scout does not try to understand her teacher, Miss Caroline’s perspective.
In other words, Scout immediately judges Miss Caroline but, she does not take into account that Miss Caroline does not know the traditions or people of Maycomb well enough to know that Walter Cunningham will not take the coin or that Burris Ewell would be so disrespectful to the point where she, herself, would be in tears. Atticus asks Scout to go to school tomorrow after telling her this and that she should give her teacher another chance, even though she disapproves of Scout’s behavior and ability to read at an early age.
Since she is able to understand and take to heart her father’s advice, she is able to view the world through the eyes of a mysterious man named Boo Radley in her small town of Maycomb better. “One time [Atticus] said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough,” Scout thinks as she stands on the Radley porch (Lee 279). She reflects on her past views of Boo Radley as a monster who feasts on cats and squirrels and her constant tormenting of him as well, with Jem and Dill.
Although Scout does believe the rumors, Boo Radley is able to belie the wild stories that are created by the people of Maycomb by saving Scout and her brother from being killed by Bob Ewell. He is just an innocent man who is afraid of being hurt by the people of Maycomb again. Similarly, Jem is able to understand Mrs. Dubose better with the help of Atticus. After the death of Mrs. Dubose, Atticus tells Jem, “I wanted you to see something about [Mrs. Dubose]… I wanted you to see what real courage is… She had her own views about things a lot different from mine,” (Lee 112).
Atticus wants Jem to see that even though Mrs. Dubose does not agree with his idea of helping an African American man in court, she should still be respected. He even comments about her appearance every day, even though she insults him often. Jem needs to see that she has a reason for her actions and beliefs and understand that she had different views than Atticus. Inevitably, when someone sees someone else’s perspective, he or she is able to respect the person and see his or her true form. Hence, when humans understand one another, their eyes are opened and they can be filled compassion and filled with kindness as well.
They do not assess other, they forgive, and they respect the different points of view that others have. This understanding is something that unites everyone’s differences and brings people together. Although it is difficult to find this understanding, once someone acquires it, they have discovered a secret that brings everyone together. They can then see everyone in ways they have never seen before and respect them because of it. Everyone’s differences will be seen past and then everyone will be united as one. Only then will understanding flourish into compassion and kindness.