A little over a year ago, I said goodbye to my literary hero, Nelle Harper Lee. Best known as the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee closed her eyes for a final time on February 1, 2016. Her most famous novel continues to sell a million copies annually worldwide nearly fifty years after its first publication.
I have used the novel to make applications both in my personal and my professional life. I believe several of my favorite quotes from this legendary novel are applicable to those of us in the chamber profession today. Chamber executives have one of the most rewarding, and simultaneously most challenging, jobs in local communities across our great country. Chamber professionals have to be humble while strong, persistent while accommodating, courageous while brave, humorous while serious, and gutsy while bold.
The novel’s patriarch, Atticus Finch, said, “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.” Chamber leaders are some of the most empathic folks I know. They are understanding, compassionate, and inclusive as they tackle important issues facing the future of their communities.
The novel’s main character, Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch, is quoted as saying, “Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.” Chamber leaders have this trait mastered. They work every day to look over and above rhetoric, biased opinions, mistruths, and false assumptions of those opposed to progress. They have the same goals of working together to find the facts that guide the decisions that lead to the best outcomes for their chambers and communities.
As the novel’s story unfolds and Atticus becomes involved in the controversial court case, he remarks to his daughter, Scout, that she “Might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.” Chamber executives are the most patient, calm, cool, and collected group of professionals I know. It’s easy to get distracted, provoked, and challenged, but chamber leaders think, embrace, and move forward to be effective.
As the novel’s culmination in the courtroom plays out, Judge Taylor remarks that, “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” Chamber leaders work diligently to make sure all sides are heard and facts evaluated. It is oftentimes a difficult task.
And, finally, chamber leaders know that food brings people together. With a lot of humor, I agree with Scout when she said, “Pass the damn ham, please.”
Jeremy L. Arthur is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama. He is a past chairman of the Southeast Institute Board of Regents, Institute for Organization Management, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. He is also a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Board of Trustees and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100. A lifelong Alabamian, you can find him cheering for his alma mater, Auburn University ,or reading his favorite book, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Alabama native Nelle Harper Lee.