How does Atticus explain understanding another person's actions in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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After Scout's rough first day at school, Atticus teaches her a lesson in perspective by encouraging her to view situations from other people's point of view. Atticus tells Scout,

"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." (Lee, 30)

Atticus's lesson in perspective helps Scout understand other people's actions and behaviors better by viewing situations from their unique point of view. His analogy about climbing into another person's skin is similar to the idiom regarding walking a mile in someone else's shoes. Scout takes her father's advice to heart and attempts to understand people better by "climbing into their skin and walking around."

At the beginning of chapter 7, Scout applies her father's lesson in an attempt to understand her brother's moody behavior. After considering Jem's perspective, Scout says,

"If I had gone alone to the Radley Place at two in the morning, my funeral would have been held the next afternoon. So I left Jem alone and tried not to bother him." (Lee, 59)

Atticus's advice widens Scout's perspective and helps her develop into a mature, sympathetic person. Atticus also challenges his children to exercise tolerance whenever possible. Following the mob scene in chapter 15, Atticus excuses Mr. Cunningham's behavior and attempts to explain his actions and mob mentality by telling the children,

"Mr. Cunningham’s basically a good man . . . he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us." (Lee, 159)

Scout also uses her father's advice to accurately judge Mayella's character while she is on the witness stand and listens as Atticus explains why Bob Ewell spit in his face. Overall, Atticus not only teaches his children the importance of viewing situations from other people's point of view but also leads by example and exercises tolerance.

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Atticus' explanation to Scout concerning the need to respect other people's opinions and actions illustrates this best.

"... if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. 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."

It is a philosophically positive and progressive point of view, especially in the ultra-conservative world of 1930s Maycomb, where racism and intolerance are the norm. Atticus believes that all people are equal, and that their opinions should be valued and respected--even Bob Ewell's. After Bob spits in Atticus' face and threatens him, Atticus suggests that Jem

"... stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial... The man had to have some sort of a comeback... he had to take it out on somebody."

In the final paragraphs of the novel, Scout recognizes that one of the characters in the book Atticus had been reading to her, Stoner's Boy, was actually "real nice," although he had been accused of things he had not done--just like Boo Radley. In typically hopeful Atticus fashion, he tells her that

"Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them."

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