EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 21, 2013

On Typhoon Haiyan, Atticus Finch, Bill Maher

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — To the editor:

Last week a colossal typhoon ravaged the Philippines. Those who study these things say that Typhoon Haiyan was basically the same size storm as Hurricane Katrina, though the death toll was pretty much doubled. I cannot imagine the terror of being in the midst of such a devastating act of nature. And yet, I try very hard to live life the way Atticus Finch advised.

For those of you who haven’t read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the past year, allow me to explain what I am talking about. In the third chapter of Harper Lee’s masterful novel, young Scout Finch is lamenting the “tragedies” of her first day at school to her father Atticus. Scout’s teacher scolds her and literally slaps her wrist; a poor boy’s shocking eating habits provoke her into making a rude comment that gets her in trouble at home; and puberty is causing her older brother Jem to prove troublesome. She whines to her father that life seems unfair and that school is simply not for her.

Atticus replies with one of my favorite lines in literature. He soothingly states, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Atticus was endorsing empathy. It’s a very worthy thing to endorse. I do, however, disagree with it being such a “simple trick” to learn. If it is, why don’t more people live this way? How come Bill Maher couldn’t just think for one second before he spoke lightly about the Boston Marathon bombing — “I mean your city wasn’t leveled by Godzilla.”

I doubt he was thinking about what it must be like for little Martin Richard’s parents or any of the number of people who were severely injured or any of the heroes who ran toward the explosion instead of away. It’s just ignorant. A lot of people are ignorant when it comes to empathy. It’s not a simple emotion. But although it’s not easy to learn, I still believe it is worth trying.

Laughter is all well and good, but compassion goes a long way as well. I like a joke (even an inappropriate one) just as much as the next person, but I truly believe in the words of Atticus Finch. It’s like a religion for me in some ways. Try to understand where people are coming from. Walk around in their skin for a little bit. If you do, you’ll probably donate (money, blood, supplies, whatever) more often, forgive more often, reach out more often, listen more often, volunteer more often. Your pockets will probably be emptier and your calendar fuller, but I can pretty much guarantee your heart will be lighter.

Arianne Dellovo