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The Woman Who Taught Us To Be Kind To Each Other

Harper Lee's sad passing this week, causes us to reflect on just how exactly she changed the way we live.

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When a legend leaves our world in the 21st century, inevitably tributes pour in across the internet, a sign that this person touched the lives of people the world over. When the news of Harper Lee's death came, things were no different, or were they?

Say the name Harper Lee and the word 'Mockingbird' will not be far behind and there is good reason for this. The release of Mockingbird embodied in fiction the tales of race, discrimination and ignorance which characterised the lives of millions, not just in the US, but across the world. When people were sharing quotes from Mockingbird, they weren't just sharing passages they remembered or liked, they were talking about the words that changed their lives and shaped their outlook.

One of the most popular quotes I've seen strewn across twitter over the past two days has been:

"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."

It isn't hard to see why this has resonated with so many people. I think it's the imagery of literally climbing inside of another person and seeing the world from their perspective. It's a welcome reminder for us all to be a little more accepting and understanding, a message which is as important today as it was then.

Fore me, my favourite quote from Mockingbird is this one:

'Atticus, he was real nice.'
'Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.'

I don't really know why this speaks to me so much. I can only hazard a guess that it's because of its pure simplicity. We think that we see things plainly through our own eyes as we navigate the world, and yet there is so much we overlook, particularly in our relationships with other human beings. Here Atticus is saying, you wouldn't be so surprised to find the good in people, if you only looked a little closer at them.

Maybe Harper Lee's greatest gift to the world was Atticus. In modelling a character after her own father, she managed to create possibly the purest hero in literary history. The power of Atticus in demonstrated in the people who became lawyers because of him and those who named their children after him. Quite simply Atticus, and Harper Lee taught us a new way to see the world, and basically to be nicer to one another.

It is telling that 50 years after To Kill A Mockingbird, when Harper Lee released her long awaited second novel, Go Set A Watchman, people flocked to bookshops and pre-ordered in huge numbers. I was one of those curious readers, keen to see how Scout and co had grown up. Yet on reflection I think that this is the wrong way to read and regard Watchman. Taken in its context Watchman is actually an early version of Mockingbird, so to view it as a sequel is not just incorrect but reductive. The lessons of Mockingbird have not been cancelled out by Watchman, but actually reinforced. In these two novels Harper Lee shows the evolution of Atticus to the kind-hearted man we fell in love with, not his fall from grace.

Harper Lee's position as one of the truly iconic writers of the 20th century will never be questioned and overwhelmingly the gaze of history will overlook Watchman, and instead will continue to take inspiration from the masterpiece that is To Kill A Mockingbird. The millions of tributes pouring in on social media are different from the norm. People are not just remembering Harper Lee, they are continuing to spread her message, ensuring that To Kill A Mockingbird will live on forever.

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