Sometimes we can all be like Mrs. Dubos, the mean neighbor in the classic film To Kill a Mockingbird. Set during the mid-1930s, the film explores life in a tiny Alabama town through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl, Scout. The elderly Mrs. Dubos spends her days sitting on her front porch, watching the neighborhood with eagle eyes. “When you walk by her house, don’t look at her or say a word,” Scout warns one of her playmates, a newcomer to town, “because she keeps a Confederate pistol in her lap and she’s as soon shoot you as look at you.”
Scout’s devilish sense of humor keeps her from following her own advice. Minutes after warning her friend, she strolls by the old woman’s house and casually calls out, “Hey there, Mrs. Dubos!”
“Don’t you say ‘Hey’ to me, you ugly little girl!” Mrs. Dubos shouts back angrily. “You say, ‘Good afternoon, Mrs. Dubos!’ Didn’t anyone teach you any manners? You come back here when I’m talking to you! Do you hear me? You come back here right now!”
There seems to be a prevailing temptation these days to behave like Mrs. Dubos—to sit on our front porches or on social media (the front porch’s modern equivalent), looking for any excuse to be offended, level anger or criticism, or write off others as being the problem. Perhaps a year and a half of social isolation or watching 24-hour news channels is to blame. But I suspect the trend predates the pandemic.
Last week I enjoyed a long, leisurely dinner out with a half-dozen people, some long-time friends, and some new acquaintances. The age range of those at the table spanned a good 25 years—which for me, is generally the norm. Afterward, someone commented on how wonderful it was to “have young friends.” I wholeheartedly agreed. It’s too easy for all of us to self-segregate generationally. Very quickly, whether we’re in our 20s, 30s, 40s, or older, we can find ourselves living in generational echo chambers. Before we know it, we’re complaining about “old people” or “these young people today,” even when only a decade separates us from them.
Age is just one way in which we self-segregate. There are, of course, many others. There seems to be no shortage of labels to choose from. Once we’ve selected our appropriate identity, it becomes easy to sit on our proverbial front porch (our safe zone), gazing with zealously suspicious eyes on everyone passing by.
Perhaps if we venture from the safe shade of our respective porches, walk around a few blocks in our neighborhoods, and initially force ourselves to interact with strangers, repressing any immediate leaps to judgment, we’ll discover that the world isn’t that scary a place after all.
Perhaps we can retrain ourselves until, unlike To Kill a Mockingbird’s Miss Dubois, when a precocious kid strolls by shouting, “Here there,” our default reaction will be to call back, “Hey there!” with a big, warm smile.
Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouthâ€™s official channel) since 2011.
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