The Golden Rule is the basic principle of treating others the way you would want to be treated. Throughout the novel, Atticus acts as a positive role model for his children by demonstrating compassion, tolerance, and sympathy for people who are less fortunate than him. Atticus exercises the Golden Rule in chapter 5 after he catches the children attempting to communicate with Boo by placing a letter in his windowsill. Scout reiterates her father's words by saying,
How would we like it if Atticus barged in on us without knocking, when we were in our rooms at night? We were, in effect, doing the same thing to Mr. Radley. What Mr. Radley did might seem peculiar to us, but it did not seem peculiar to him. Furthermore, had it never occurred to us that the civil way to communicate with another being was by the front door instead of a side window? (Lee, 50).
While chastising the children for their actions, Atticus encourages them to stand in Boo Radley's shoes and view the situation from his perspective. Essentially, Atticus is teaching his children to treat Boo with the same level of respect they would want and expect from others when communicating.
In chapter 11, Atticus demonstrates the Golden Rule again by treating his racist neighbor with kindness and sympathy. Mrs. Dubose is depicted as a rude, offensive woman. She continually criticizes Atticus in front of his children. Despite Mrs. Dubose's offensive comments and cruel personality, Atticus practices compassion and tolerance by telling Jem,
Easy does it, son...She’s an old lady and she’s ill. You just hold your head high and be a gentleman. Whatever she says to you, it’s your job not to let her make you mad. (Lee, 103).
Atticus sympathizes with Mrs. Dubose's difficult situation by making Jem read to her every afternoon for two hours; Jem's company helps her overcome her morphine addiction. By treating Mrs. Dubose with respect, compassion, and sympathy, Atticus practices the Golden Rule.
Atticus once again exercises the Golden Rule in chapter 16. Following the tense situation outside of the Maycomb jailhouse, Atticus practices the Golden Rule by sympathizing with Walter Cunningham. Atticus does not judge him by his previous actions, even though he disagreed with them. Atticus forgives Walter for placing him and his children in a compromising, dangerous situation and explains to Jem and Scout,
Mr. Cunningham’s basically a good man...he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us...He might have hurt me a little...but son, you’ll understand folks a little better when you’re older. A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man. (Lee, 159).
Throughout the novel, Atticus makes a point to see people for who they are. He tries not to fall prey to stereotypes and personal opinions. Overall, he treats others fairly and kindly.
Atticus constantly practices the Golden Rule, which involves treating others the way one would like to be treated. One might even argue that Atticus takes this practice to an extreme. For example, after the trial of Tom Robinson, Jem tells Atticus that he is worried about his father's safety and that Atticus should do something about Mr. Ewell, who might want to seek revenge against Atticus. However, Atticus tells Jem, "Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with." Atticus understands that Bob Ewell had to spit in Atticus's face to save his own pride, and he does not believe in pursuing Bob Ewell or taking any action against him. Instead, he treats Bob Ewell the way he would want to be treated: respectfully.
In addition, Atticus always treats Boo Radley with respect, while others treat Boo differently because he is developmentally disabled. After Boo has saved Jem and Scout from Bob Ewell, Atticus says, “Thank you for my children, Arthur." He refers to Boo with his correct first name, and he treats Boo the way he would like to be treated—with respect and dignity.
The golden rule says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This means that a person should treat others how he or she wants to be treated. Generally, people want to be treated fairly and with kindness, compassion and courtesy. At six years old, Scout Finch is just starting to learn this rule because her solution is to become physically violent with other children when her pride is challenged. Atticus, being the kind and compassionate person and father that he is, takes the time to teach Scout the golden rule. He also demonstrates it in his social and professional life as well.
One example of Atticus using the golden rule is when he teaches it to his daughter to help her get along with others at school.
"First of all. . . 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" (30).
This is Atticus's "trick" for how to apply the golden rule. Once you look at life from another person's point of view, it's easier to show compassion towards them--or at least speak to them with respect without lowering oneself in the process.
Then, Atticus shows that he uses his own advice after Bob Ewell spits in his face and provokes him to a fight in public. Jem doesn't understand how Atticus puts up with people like that, so Atticus explains as follows:
"Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take" (218).
Atticus does not condone Bob Ewell's actions, he simply won't stoop to a lower level. Plus, by applying the golden rule in this situation, Atticus avoids a fight and may have helped someone else in the process.
One last example of Atticus using the golden rule is when he deals with Mrs. Dubose. She's an old lady who bad-mouths Atticus behind his back and to his children. Rather than respond accordingly, Atticus will take off his hat and say, "Good evening, Mrs. Dubose! You look like a picture this evening." He also teaches Jem the following:
"Easy does it, son. . . She's an old lady and she's ill. You just hold your head high and be a gentleman. Whatever she says to you, it's your job not to let her make you mad" (100).
By applying the golden rule, Atticus teaches his children not to get riled up by what people say or think. He also shows that he won't lower himself to bad behavior or disrespecting others. As a result, people are respectful to his face, and ultimately, they respect him deep down, too.