“People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.”
Her book, To Kill a Mockingbird , stands as one of the most read and most purchased of the 20th century. The character Atticus Finch has influenced a dozen or more other studies, documentaries, and racial equality campaigns. And little Scout, who narrates the book as the lead character, has sparked many little girls to use their powers of observation and speak up about things they see and changes they want to address.
Though Mockingbird remains Lee’s only published book to date, the words of the book have transformed people, moved cultures, and sparked action all over the world. Lee’s quotes are some of the most popular in search engines on the internet.
Lee’s words have also moved me time and again. I am inspired by Scout’s dedication to speaking truth. And I am resolved when I read Atticus Finch’s pleas for equality and justice in the courtroom drama that unfolds within the book. I see committed speaking within the story and within the resonance of Lee’s passionate writing.
Lee’s work was not well-received everywhere. On her speaking tour after the book was published, she faced harassment and threats because of the controversial nature of the book’s topic: that a black man should be treated and regarded equally to a white man. Yet, she persisted. She earned her courage in the face of those who tried to destroy her career.
She didn’t want a writing career, though, and returned to Monroeville, Alabama, where she has avoided interviews. This may be my favorite part of her story. You see, I believe that once you’ve spoken your committed truth, the words stand for themselves. Your words are generative, they create something. Every word you utter makes a difference to others. What impact would you have your words achieve? What are you looking for in your words? What do you hear when you speak?
Harper Lee is a wonder woman for providing us with an incredibly committed, beautifully timeless story.
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