Three Lessons Learned from a Literary Classic
I just finished reading what many consider to be the perfect American novel, and I think I agree. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a treasure, and as I re-read it this time, I discovered all kinds of lessons that can be applied to not only our personal lives, but our business lives as well. Here are three major ones, in no particular order.
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” –Scout
Scout is saying this because her teacher does not like that her father taught her to read long before she started school, and has declared that her father Atticus has taught her “wrong.” Scout's teacher wants the two of them to stop immediately before permanent damage is done. What Scout realizes is that she took reading for granted, and not until she was faced with it’s loss did she truly appreciated how much she loved it—how much a part of who she was that reading was to her.
I believe that we all take things for granted—our freedom, our possessions, our loved ones. We may also, however, take our clients for granted, and even our employees. It's not until faced with their loss do we really appreciate them. So take a lesson from Scout here, folks, appreciate what you have while you have it, express it, and do whatever you can to hold on to it, so you are not left without it... missing it.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” –Atticus to Scout
This is a near-perfect illustration of why empathy is such an important trait to possess. In business as in our personal interactions, it is not until we really try to see the other side of an issue that we can begin to arrive at compromise and mutual understanding. So the next time you are at odds with a customer, co-worker, employee or anyone else for that matter, remember Atticus’ words and really truly try to get into that person’s skin and walk around in it.
This is no cursory exercise; you must really take some time and effort to ask yourself, “Where is this person coming from?” “What am I not understanding about this situation?” Take your time. The knowledge you come away with and the understanding you achieve will be priceless.
“They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions...but before I can live with other folks, I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.” –Atticus Finch
Remember when you were a kid and you said to your parents, “But everyone is doing it!” And they said, “If everyone jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge would you do it too?” This is the literary version of that exchange.
What Atticus is saying that there can often be a huge difference between what is popular and what is right. And sometimes doing the right thing can be downright painful. This is often the case.
Recycling takes effort, as does volunteering your time. But it’s pretty hard to argue that these activities do not benefit society, and by extension, us as individuals. A lot of your friends, competitors and peers may not be doing it, but that does not mean they are not right.
More importantly, I think what Atticus is trying to get at is that we have to listen to our own conscience. Everyone is different. But we cannot let what everyone else is doing affect us. If we know in our hearts that something is right, we should do it; regardless of what everyone else is doing.
If you haven’t read this book, do yourself a favor and read it. Or re-read it. And if you have a particular passage that you love, that we can all take a lesson from, please share it.