Kim and I pulled into Huntsville, Alabama yesterday afternoon. Naturally, my mind drifted to my favorite novel of life in Alabama: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Near the start of of the book, young Jean Louise Finch — better known as Scout — comes home from her first day of school and tells her father she never wants to go back. Atticus thinks for a while before offering his daughter a piece of advice:
“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 is trying to convince Scout that her teacher isn’t all bad — she just has a different background and a different point of view. Atticus believes that before Scout condemns or criticizes Miss Caroline, she should practice a bit of empathy.
This is great advice for everyone, and for all aspects of life — even personal finance. Empathy is a skill that seems to have faded from our society (if it ever was truly present); instead, we’re quick to judge each other based on caricatures and stereotypes and incomplete information.
- “Trump supporters are ignorant fools!”
- “Liberals vote based on emotion, not logic!”
- “If you’re in debt, you’re an idiot!”
It’s very easy to judge (and condemn) others who believe differently than you do. It’s especially easy when these folks make seemingly dumb decisions: Your best friend buys a new Dodge Challenger when she can barely pay her rent; a former co-worker takes a week-long vacation to Venice immediately after losing his job; your sister buys a new house even though she intends to move in a couple of years.
Rather than write these people off as “stupid”, I think it’s important to stop for a moment to consider why they do the things they do. It’s rarely because they lack intelligence. There’s usually something deeper going on. And as Atticus Finch suggests, it’s in our best interest to climb inside their skin and walk around in it. That’s the only way we can understand what makes them tick. [Read more…]