A very welcome punch in the gut

Today a student punched me in the gut.

She posted a comment, innocent as they are, on a feed on my Facebook page. And it hurt and felt so good at the same time. It was probably the greatest compliment I have ever received.

She called me the Atticus Finch of journalism.

I can’t live up to that. But I do aspire to. And I have tried to embrace some of the principles of Harper Lee’s protagonist lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Let’s look at some of Finch’s words.

“Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open.”

I have always believed in open government and the First Amendment. I still think the best solution is more speech, not less speech, and that as Louis Brandeis said, “Sunlight is the best of disinfectants.”

“When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles ’em.”

My students aren’t children. But this still holds true. They can smell evasion or a lie quickly. Tell them the truth and demand the truth from them. And then learning can begin.

“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.”

Please go do that as journalists.

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

See above advice.

This last one is personal and I will provide no context.  Two movies have moved me more than any others. One was Inherit the Wind and another was To Kill a Mockingbird.

“Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

This student’s compliment — probably meant just to be nice — really hit me.

Sorry, kid. I can’t live up to it.

But I will always try.

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