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“Just Ignore It” as Advice

This question is part of the GRAB(ook) Club, an online book club open to anyone and everyone.

Throughout the book, a piece of advice — “just ignore it” — is repeated in several different ways.  On page 133, Atticus recommends that Jem tune out Mrs. Dubose when she attempts to upset him.

“Easy does it, son,” Atticus would say.  “She’s an old lady and she’s ill.  You just hold your head high and be a gentleman.  What she says to you, it’s your job not to let her make you mad.”

Of course, we’re not just talking about the impolite, personal remarks.  Atticus is telling his son to ignore the blatantly racist remarks too.

It is advice that is often repeated on the Internet: don’t feed the trolls, don’t react to negative comments, let other people’s baiting roll off your back.  I know I’ve told the twins to ignore bullies in their class.  Ignoring — in other words, not doing anything — seems to be an easy solution that is offered for a variety of situations.

Yet we also see the effects of a town that has ignored its racism and turned a blind-eye to its bullying.  Change rarely comes from people who ignore a situation.

Do you think “just ignore it” is ultimately more helpful or hurtful?

After you answer my question, please click over to read the rest of the book club questions for To Kill a Mockingbird.  You can get your own copy of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee at bookstores including Amazon.


1 Kasey { 08.15.13 at 7:53 am }

I think there is a time to ignore and a time to teach. The hard part is figuring out which is which. Some people are no teachable, in other word no matter what you say to them they are going to continue with negativity and that is not worth it. However some people don’t realize what they are doing or saying has an ill effect or even realize there is another side to a situation, and those people are worth teaching. Along with that some situations we can’t teach our kids to ignore either such as racism, abuse, and anything that could harm. For that we have to teach our kids the difference between being a tattletale and helping someone else or themselves to not be placed in harms way.

2 Stacey { 08.15.13 at 10:44 am }

My parents always told me to ignore the other kids who made fun of me when I was in elementary school and even older. It was a terrible mistake. I didn’t understand that in most cases they were teasing me in fun, and by ignoring them, I gave up any chance of making friends. Not to mention never learned any social skills that way, either. I think role-playing (as you mentioned that you did with the Chickie Nob recently) would have been much more effective. But it would have been more work for my parents, who were also socially inept, so they took the easy path. Obviously there are times to ignore someone – I just let a lot of what my mom’s friends say pass by without replying, but like Atticus says, they are old and I’m not going to change any minds there.

3 nicoleandmaggie { 08.15.13 at 10:56 am }

Ignoring never seems to work. Though in the case of elderly racist relatives who are about to die, it may not be worth the effort to try to counter it. (I did gently correct DH’s grandma every time she made a racist statement about “them Mexicans”, but only before she got dementia. She tended to not take offense, but it didn’t seem to make a difference either.)

I like the new movements to combat -isms. “Dude, that’s not cool” is one of my favorites. We’re also linking this week to an article that says even if you’re not up to “Dude that’s not cool” you can still frown to show your social disapproval.

Re: internet trolls. Deleting and banning seems the best method. Sort of forced ignoring.

4 Tigger { 08.15.13 at 11:26 am }

Given that people often bully to get attention, ignoring them runs the high risk of them stepping up the attacks (verbal or physical) in order to get a reaction. Give them a reaction, just not the one they are looking for, imo. Be cautious, but…ignoring never seems to work. They take it as a sign that you’re afraid of them, even when you aren’t.

That being said, there’s a time to teach too, if you can find it. Some people are viewed as trolling when they are just ignorant. Some people bully because they don’t know any other way. If you’re going to educate, use facts, not emotion.

5 a { 08.15.13 at 12:21 pm }

Like any strategy, ignoring things must be deployed at the proper time. When someone tells you that you can’t do something, ignoring may be a good strategy. When someone makes an offensive comment, ignoring it may not be the best strategy.

In this context, I think the idea of Souther-ness comes into play. Manners are different. Outspokenness is frowned upon. Thus, ignoring things may be a matter of regional difference – and it may have led to the continuation or racism.

6 Vivian { 08.15.13 at 5:43 pm }

I agree with Kasey in that there are times to ignore and times to teach. Sometimes we can only teach by example and trying to teach our elders, especially those at the end of their lives, may be close to impossible. I don’t think that Atticus was advocating “ignore” everything, just that in this particular case it is better to ignore Mrs. Dubose than trying to teach her. I don’t know if this is necessarily a part of Southern culture or not as it is also prevalent in parts of Appalachia (West Virginia and Kentucky). In my mind this comes more under the category of showing respect for our elders. Atticus obviously doesn’t ignore certain issues as he tries to exemplify a more tolerant attitude when dealing with Tom Robinson and teaching his children to not look down on others or use racists or prejudicial language.

7 Jessie { 08.15.13 at 10:37 pm }

Generally I think it’s helpful, but I think ultimately it depends on what it is you’re ignoring. When it comes to insults and bullying about oneself or family members, it tends to be the ideal response, although one that most of us cannot follow as much as we “should.” At the same time, ignoring it just allows injustice to continue, and so it becomes harmful when the advice is to ignore something that is happening to someone else. The situation with the Ewells would be a lot harder to have happen today, in the era of Child Protective Services. At the same time, how many times do people ignore something that they suspect is happening? And how many times do people ignore bullying of others until it gets to the point where a person hurts themself or someone else in response? So I guess that’s the key to me, is whether you are the victim or the observer. As the victim, ignoring it when possible is the best response, but as the observer, it’s not.

8 Pepper { 08.16.13 at 1:58 pm }

When I taught high school, we read this book and discussed this very thing. Most kids agreed that “just ignore it” only works when you can really, truly let whatever “it” is go. If it’s going to eat you up inside, preying on your mind in your quiet moments, then you are simply letting the person get away with “it.” If you can move on and focus on other things, then you are ignoring it. And that probably is good advice because, let’s face it, most people aren’t going to change. The real sticking point always came when we got to discussing if the “it” was bothering/hurting someone else. Because then you’re the one, standing by, watching it happen. And we all agree that’s as bad as being the “it.” So. Tough. No real answer. I love Atticus Finch but I tend to think he was over simplifying this one.

9 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 08.17.13 at 9:52 am }

I think there’s a time for ignoring things and a time for stepping in. When my Great Aunt made a sexist remark saying women should not hold professional positions I felt comfortable ignoring it and using the same argument Atticus uses right there. But here’s the thing: pretty much nobody else present at that moment held the same opinion. And they made no secret of it, scoffing and exchanging looks and then pointedly turning to me (as the professional woman in the room) to put things right. But in another context, where I/a small group of us were alone against the tides, it would have been important to stand up.

I’m not that good at it, though. I’m better at ignoring.

10 loribeth { 09.02.13 at 7:01 pm }

I just realized that while I put up my post, I never got around to answering all the others questions. Bad blogger. :p Anyway, for what it’s worth, I agree with the previous posters. Although I tend to shy away from confrontation of any kind myself (even when I probably shouldn’t). I guess a lot depends on what is being said/done, by whom & under what circumstances. I’d be more likely to ignore the racist ramblings of a cranky old lady like Mrs. Dubose than if someone younger & who should know better said the same things.

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