Sensibility: Freedom Begins Within

My mother’s family tree is firmly rooted in Alabama’s red-clay landscape. Because of her upbringing, my formative years were similarly grounded in a deeply Southern sensibility – a perception many experienced for the first time while paging through To Kill a Mockingbird.

Harper Lee, the novel’s celebrated author, chose to shun the status quo of 1950’s segregation and, instead, sharpen her pencil to help enact social change. To Kill a Mockingbird was her emotional plea for civil justice.

Filling the pages of Lee’s semi-autobiographical masterwork is a promising discourse on morality and hope. The character of Atticus Finch embodies this, patiently passing-down the ideals of equality to his daughter “Scout” despite the story’s oppressive setting and tragically unfolding narrative.

It is this optimism that holds at its core the belief that the world can (and one day will) be a better place.

Like Scout, my childhood was a multi-crayon scribble of customs clashing with deepening tides of cultural change. I, too, witnessed brave souls attempting to redraw the antiquated norms of prejudice masquerading as tradition. I owe a piece of what I do professionally to the lessons I learned long ago: That inclusion, not exclusion, propels us in positive directions.

Unfortunately, the challenges offered up in Lee’s long-ago storyline still strike relevant chords: The prejudicial mindsets and unjust practices within her novel still linger-on today.

“People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.” – Harper Lee

According to a multi-decade University of Michigan study sampling over 14,000 college students: empathy levels have dropped 40% since 2000. Although this reduction is drastic, it is worth noting that we have not lost our abilities to empathize – just our desires to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”

What is emerging in today’s culture is a myopic repurposing of our empathic instincts: a desire to selectively identify and sympathize with only those who believe and behave as we do. This presents fertile ground for the clouding of humanity – most recently expressed through the cruelty of internet rants, the dehumanization of refugees, and the mass violence in our streets.

Be the Bird, not the Stone

As To Kill a Mockingbird unfolds, we become increasingly aware of how easy it is to cast the first stone – to follow the allure of fighting judgment with more judgment. It also becomes clear how transcendent it is to live courageously – to take wing and ride the updrafts of selflessness and contribution. Rising above one’s fears toward a greater good – because our sustained humanity depends on acts of kindness, not self-righteousness (think “Boo Radley”).

“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations.

I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

– Mother Theresa

It has been my long-held clinical observation that those who focus on their problems manifest more misery, while those invested in uncovering solutions find betterment. We are encumbered by the degree to which we struggle with ourselves and others: Curative magic happens when we look past our obstacles and toward our objectives.

Freedom Begins Within

Choosing to focus on the transformative power of connection creates an outcome that serves us all. It is our differences, not our similarities, that provide opportunities for growth. Let’s all get in it to win it – together.

Additional reading on the subject of equality and sensibility:

  1. “Tolerance is More than Putting up with Things – it’s a Moral Virtue.” The Conversation
  2. Equal Rights Make Sense for the U.S. EconomyThe New York Times