Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Chance to Do the Right Thing

Over the weekend, I re-watched the film To Kill a Mockingbird. During the famous courtroom scene, I remembered an interview with the actress who played Mayella Yule, and the struggle she’d had trying to understand her character’s choice to lie on the witness stand. She pointed out that Mayella had many opportunities to tell the truth that Tom Robinson had not raped and beaten her—that she’d been “mighty beat up” by her own father. So why didn’t she do the right thing? Why stick to her story even as it became more and more obvious that her family had accused an innocent man? What was so worth putting a man’s life at stake?

Then they filmed the scene and reached the moment when Atticus Finch gives Mayella one last chance to be honest.

“Do you want to tell us what really happened?”

In the interview, the actress describes the feeling that came over her when she looked across the set at the man playing her violent, vindictive father, Bob Yule.

Suddenly she understood what drove Mayella to lie. Fear. Fear of what would await her at home if she came clean. Fear of the man who might kill her this time. Fear smothered any cries from her conscience or sympathy for the man who’d done nothing but chop her kindling, haul her water, and greet her with a polite tip of his hat while passing her house on his way home from the fields.

So she stuck to the lie, sealing Tom’s fate, and branding Mayella Yule as one of the most pitiful, unlikable “victims” in literature.

I’ve never liked Mayella. Even after watching that interview I had a hard time sympathizing. She didn’t seem sorry for what she did. How could she live with herself afterward? As I watched her scene this time, however, I identified with her for the first time. A few weeks earlier I’d made a decision that required me to silence my fears, including my dread over how people might react. And I’d done it! But it had taken every last crumb of courage, and I didn’t have an abusive father glaring at me from across the room. I certainly couldn’t claim a long track record of courageous moments to go along with it. More often, I’ve responded like weak-willed Mayella and given in to the threatening faces of those who would have (heaven forbid) disapproved of my choice—been unhappy with me—explained why they would have done things differently.

When faced with a difficult choice to do the right thing . . . or not . . . I don’t want to be like Mayella. My prayer is that I will be willing to do the right thing even when it means offending, upsetting, or disappointing those who I most want approval from.

I caught myself wondering how To Kill a Mockingbird might have ended if Mayella had given a different answer to “Do you want to tell us what really happened?” What if she had done the right thing? But that would mean rewriting a classic, and I wouldn’t dare attempt that. It would be a lot more beneficial for me to use my recent act of gutsiness as motivation to do the hard thing more often. How different could my life be then?

How different might yours be? What fears most often keep you from doing the right thing?



Blogger joe said...

Your comment brightened my day :')
Lately I'm finding less and less time to devote to the blog but do plan to put back some love into it. Cheers, friend!
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