HUMANIST CORNER November 2018
“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions…but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The only thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” Harper Lee “To Kill a Mockingbird”
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Martin Luther King Jr
Before jumping off into this month’s topic of Integrity, permit me a little gloating. Although two critical, Florida races are still up in the air, newly elected Democratic women make up over 60% of Democratic gains. A diverse group including the 2016 Teacher of the Year, a former military helicopter pilot, a former CIA officer, veterans, small business owners, social workers, lawyers and health care workers for openers. They include African Americans, Latinos, the first two native American women, the first two Muslim women, and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Clearly the percentage of ladies on the Hill still doesn’t reflect their actual proportion of the population but their roar was deafening – and clearly heard.
Now back to our topic, Integrity. Surely one of the most pressing, moral issues of our times, so often drowned out in the shuffling clatter of buzz words. Michael Jackson sang of it in “Man in the Mirror” and there’s Shakespeare’s fatherly advice to a son, “To thine ownself be true” which rings as clearly today as it did in Elizabethan England. Pilate demanded Jesus forsake integrity to preserve his own life. Remember it had to be a small boy to point out the Emperor’s wardrobe deficiencies.
Here and around the world “strong men” are springing up to secure us from fear and anger, while adding fuel to those very flames. Of course great injustices and inequities do exist. It took a sixteen year old Muslim girl to remind the world’s assembled nations of such obvious defects in the human family!
Perhaps what provoked my curiosity about Integrity was a PBS bio of author, Harper Lee, and her crowning achievement “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I fully understand the sentiment. Listening to those wonderful creatures running up and down the scale during my park walks is more soothing than a sixty-piece symphony orchestra. Now such a book was no small act of bravery on the part of a Southern lady living in Maycomb, Alabama well before the awakening of the Civil Rights movement. Perhaps her book even helped stoke those fires of conscience and integrity that sprang up years later.
There’s the courthouse scene when the black man whom Atticus has defended against the trumped up charges of a white lady is found guilty, marched off. Atticus picks up his jacket from his chair and also begins to slowly depart the courtroom. All the negroes in the balcony rise to their feet. A black gentleman standing next to Scout orders the child to rise to her feet as well. “Get up girl! Your father’s passing by.”
What a powerful moment, reminding us that bravery and integrity can still wrest victory from defeat! Bravery is surely the sturdy twin of integrity. The stuff of Greek tragedy as we watch the hero girding for battle and sure defeat. Surely all of us in these swiftly moving times have seen our hopes and dreams smashed over the rocks of reality. Only to spring to life again because they must! As a humanist whose passed half a long life in this deep South garrison community, I’ve often found myself on the outside looking in. But when your version of self-actualization becomes bruised and battered by the times, please don’t flee to the safe tent of conformity. These are perilous times for careers, reputation, even safe guarding of those dear to you – so please pick your battles carefully. But when the core of your existence is threatened, stand your ground…