“The most serious daring starts within.”
- Harriett Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published 1852
Harriett Beecher Stowe famously wrote in her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin that “the most serious daring starts within”. Stowe’s book, as you most likely know, is a literary classic based on stories that she heard as a young woman from friends, family and neighbors, as they were passed on from slaves that escaped and fled to the North. These stories were about the lives lived by slaves, and of racial oppression in the South. It’s a favorite book of mine – not because I agree and believe all the philosophical, political, and social positions in it, but because I don’t. I do believe owning/oppressing another human being is wrong. This book causes me to think and puzzle out what I find so troubling in some parts of the book, and it causes my soul to soar at the strength of the characters in other parts. Centered on the issue of slavery, the topics of politics, economics, faith, offensive and inhumane situations, peer pressure, societal roles, family roles, and on it goes, are addressed. I relate to the characters who are struggling to figure out who they are as they learn more and experience life.
The complexity of the character Tom, and several others, allows us a glimpse into the real and uncomfortable world of slavery and our American culture at that time. Aren’t we all really just like Tom? Inconsistent, weak, and on occasion, invincible? That is what makes this life interesting, heartbreaking and joy-filled.
Whether you think Uncle Tom’s Cabin hurt or helped the cause of African-Americans (it seems to be a bigger question now than then), it was an influential book. Abraham Lincoln is said to have spoken with Stowe and said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war”.
The courage of a woman - especially in that culture - to write a book was daring, and then to be sympathetic to the plight of slaves, that too was daring. Just imagine what it would have been like as a woman at that time to write about one of the most divisive issues. There more than 300,000 copies sold in the North and it would be banned in the South (ushistory.org). As a woman, she wouldn’t have had many more rights than slaves at the time except for the distinction of being a woman in the North she was free. The culture was oppressive and rigid toward the poor, criminals, women, children, people from many other cultures. The world was changing and some people were working for and passionate about societal changes. Do you keep the status quo or do you dare to speak about your convictions if they are different or perhaps disapproved of? Just considering your beliefs and considering action is daring.
Some feel Uncle Tom’s Cabin hurts the cause of African Americans in contemporary history. I fail to see how it can. It wasn’t written in our time – it was written in the mid 1800s. Many of Stowe’s “speeches” in the book reflect support and empathy for slaves, a position she takes in writing and her public life – and she sheds light on the wrongness of slave holding. Of course some of her writings reflect ideas that we see as offensive or flawed – she was just discovering the immorality of owning another person. Is her perspective “perfect” in all her scenarios? Hardly. What about yours?
Whether you feel oppressed from within (as with mental illness), or from without (societal norms) daring to think that life can be different from what it is today is daring indeed! Making one change can change everything.
Statistics show that over 25% of our adult population has diagnosable mental illness. Approximately 10% of children ages 13-18 years old have diagnosable mental illness. With the prevalence of this issue, why do we continue to minimize symptoms, hide our concerns/fears, or continue to be unsympathetic toward those who have mental health challenges? If you have experienced changes in your mood, how you interact with others, changes in sleep, eating, or actions, please talk to someone. If you know someone who has a diagnosis – reach out to them! Check out Tracy Monteith’s book, True Blue, for helpful recommendations on how to support others and hopefully find empathy for yourself with an illness that is very often unseen. As Tracy writes, “just because you can’t see mental illness doesn’t mean it isn’t real”. Be daring. Daring starts within – with those first thoughts to seek help or those first thoughts to help! Be daring and do it!
What do you want to change? What is one thing that you can do to move you in that direction? As we learn to live life well - let's also be DARING!