Here’s an illustration from the classic movie To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), courtesy of

The Big Idea:
There is power in a kind word.

Scene Setup:
Scout, Jem, and Dill are coming home from playing.

Jem hauls them up short to warn them that, “Miss Dubose is on her porch. Listen, no matter what she says to you, don’t answer her back. There’s a Confederate pistol in her lap under her shawl, and she’ll kill you quick as look at you.”

Jem lead the other two children past the house, but Scout cannot resist calling out, “Hey, Miss. Dubose!”

Irritated, Miss Dubose yells, “Don’t you say ‘hey’ to me, you ugly girl! You say, ‘Good afternoon, Miss Dubose!’ You come over here when I’m talkin’ to you! You come over here, I said.” But Scout just keeps on walking. She sees her father, Atticus Finch, down the sidewalk, and all three children run up to him. Plainly he has heard the exchange – in fact, Miss Dubose has not stopped screaming at Scout since she passed. He shepherds the children up to Miss Dubose’s porch for a lesson in diplomacy.

Atticus says, “Good Afternoon, Miss Dubose! My, you look like a picture this afternoon.” From behind his back, Scout whispers to the other children, “He don’t say a picture of what.” Atticus gently smacks her to keep her quiet, and continues, “My goodness gracious, look at your flowers. Have you ever seen anything more beautiful? Miss Dubose, the gardens at Bellingrath have nothing to compare with your flowers.”

Completely disarmed, Miss Dubose shyly says, “I don’t think they’re as nice as last year.”

Jem whispers, “He gets her to talk about something nice so she forgets to be mean.” Atticus slaps at Jem with his hat, “I think that your yard is going to be the showplace of this town. Well, grand seeing you Miss Dubose!”

It is hard to tell if Scout actually means to irritate Miss Dubose or if she is simply testing out her brother’s theory about her meanness. Regardless, Miss Dubose’s response demonstrates that Jem’s description was apt.

Knowing how to get someone’s goat is not hard to learn, but calming a cantankerous person is a tougher lesson. Atticus Finch is determined to teach it to his children. Scout learns this lesson well. Later in the film, it is her kind words that turn away the wrath of a lynch mob.

Paul used kind words to gain a hearing in speaking before Agrippa and before the men of Athens. The Scriptures teach that a kind word turns away wrath. Atticus is a living example. By turning Miss Dubose attention away from the objects of her wrath and toward objects of beauty, Atticus is not only able to calm her, but also helps her to put her mind on good things. A shift in temperament often begins with a shift in focus. (For more movie-based illustrations and resources, visit

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