Why We Love Atticus Finch


We may disagree on many things, but I want to believe we would agree on two points. First, Applebee is many things, but fancy is not one of them. Second, virtues serve the greatest good.  

Okay, you agree about Applebee, but not sure virtue should be our highest aim. Let me try to sway you to my way of thinking. 

Character traits, like patient and impatient, are unique to an individual. Even though Aunt Elise knows her words hurt others, she’s unapologetic about her explosive temper. When a person exhibits the same positive behavior, in actions and words, it’s a virtue. Uncle Bill is the most patient person I’ve ever met. Patience is a trait I’m working on. Until I demonstrate it consistently, it’s more of a virtuous yearning.   

Wise sages through the ages tell us that behaving morally should be our highest calling. We love Atticus Finch for his virtues, wisdom, and kindness. They are not traits he puts on display to be admired, but how he lives his life raising his children and interacting with everyone, poor or powerful. 

Virtues are aspirations to be a better human being in words and actions. Watching All Creatures Great and Small (British) and The Seashore Hotel (Danish) series are studies in virtues. The characters evolve as three chief virtues are tested and asserted: self-discipline, courage, and justice. Some authors convey virtues through their protagonists’ journeys, a common template in fiction. The protagonist deals with various challenges, and in overcoming them, she is transformed. My recent book club pick, The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, was because of the superb character development of the two main characters.

Sometimes we hear or read something that resonates deeply within us. Most of us have favorite quotes and sayings. I suspect they tell something about how we want to conduct ourselves consistently. My mother conveyed her values with sayings. “Illu best aflokid” (do first what you least want to do) and “allt sem glitrar er ekki gull” (all that glitters is not gold). These were virtues she wanted to pass on to her daughters. Today, I text quotes to my children that speak to virtues I value, “Where you spend your attention is where you spend your life.” (discipline and confidence) 

“Of all the things that are, some are good, others bad, and yet others indifferent. The good are virtues and all that share in them; the bad are the vices and all that indulge them; the indifferent lie in between virtues and vices and include wealth, health, life, death, pleasure, and pain.” (Epictetus, a Greek philosopher)

While I often find myself missing the mark, I work to self-correct. A slow learner in some areas, I’m unlikely to run out of challenges. Reflecting on my actions and thoughts that occupy my mind, I give myself space to imagine and plan for a better outcome. It ties into another quote I sent my two youngest, “If you fuel your journey on the opinions of others, you are going to run out of gas.” (discipline and confidence)

There is no shortage of people who lack virtues. And once-in-a-while a public figure shows evidence of wanting to live by their values and it gets our attention. After making questionable comments in support of a new league financed by the Saudis, golfer Phil Mickelson found himself in the crosshairs of other golfers, Twitter, and the media. Reflecting on his words he made a public apology: “I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”

Working on ourselves means living by traits that transform us upward, influencing the quality of our lives. Achieving these virtues, self-discipline, courage, and justice will mean no buyer’s remorse when I lay myself down to rest for the last time. We can fool other people about our inner state, but we can’t fool ourselves. As long as we sense dis-ease within the work continues. I know I won’t reach nirvana anytime soon or ever, but I hope to go further than the local grocery store. 

When something is hard, it’s my chance to get stronger.
When someone hurts me, it’s an opportunity to forgive.
When anger arises,  I can pause and take a few deep breaths.
When other people’s opinions disturb me, it’s an opportunity not to bite.

What are your favorite quotes? What do they tell about you?