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Cruel to be Kind?

Pearl of the Post: Children Learn What They Live

With over 5 million copies sold worldwide (and counting) , RJ Palacio's best-selling and award winning book "Wonder", inspired millions of children, parents and grandparents across the globe to Choose Kind.

“Wonder” was initially released in 2012 when social media was taking shape amid a growing awareness of bullying.

I had a rare opportunity to speak with RJ during her press push for the DVD and On Demand release of the movie (by Lionsgate) and to kick off National Kindness Week. I re-read the book and re-watched the movie (thank you Lionsgate!) with my daughter. I was brought right back into the emotionally layered thread weaving through every character and encounter in the story.

So many questions and so little time. (Click above to listen to my interview with RJ Palacio: "The Wonder of Kindness") The book and movie are chock full of pearls.

RJ has said, "God couldn't be everywhere at once, so he created moms and 'since moms can't be everywhere at once, he created teachers.'"

Ultimately, we are in it together.

There's a collective responsibility among parents, teachers and the community to process and understand the emotional undercurrents of bullying. What's more, is the responsibility to meet each child where they are at.

This year my son entered middle school and so far, so good. However, RJ cautions parents not to be complacent when their child is adjusted socially. We should keep an eye on each other's kids and have mindful conversations about our observations despite the relative discomfort of addressing these issues.

We get stuck in seeing but not sharing. Of sharing but not knowing how to process and effectively help. Of finger pointing without facing our own unkind tendencies.

Good people can do bad things.

Was so grateful she shared this pearl in the book because it's true. Just because you do something "bad" or insensitive doesn't mean you're a bad or mean person, it means you're human. It means you're experimenting in your relationships and learning as you go.

We don't always think happy thoughts or act kindly. Or, at least RJ and I can admit it.

Palacio's catalyst for "Wonder" was an encounter she and her kids had at an ice cream shop. There was a girl there with a facial deformity. RJ's kids reaction was real and instinctual but not necessarily "kind".

RJ abruptly left the scene. She wishes she had stayed and re-worked that scenario into a teachable moment of choosing kindness. And so she did, albeit in a different way. That night RJ hit the computer and began repurposing the moment into the story of August Pullman, a 10 year old, genetically unlucky child with a rare facial deformity.

Her story of an abnormal child living in a cruel world, taught millions the importance of being kind and the impact of being cruel.

Hear them out.

Wonder is told from the characters multiple perspectives. I love this because as Mr. Tushman (the headmaster at Auggie's private school) says, "there's always two parts of a story." Palacio shared how, "everyone has a story and we have to be open to hearing it."

We don't know what acts, looks or words will trigger, impact and imprint another. What resonates in a moment is entirely personal. We can assume sensitive areas like race, religion, physical appearance, mental acuity would be triggers but it can be something else entirely unforeseen. What may trigger you as a parent may roll right off your child's back.

Sometimes you can't know kindness until you've experienced an act of cruelty. {Click Here to Tweet this Pearl!}

There's a thread in "Wonder" and her e-book "The Julian Chapter" about the Holocaust, which I didn't get to inquire more about. I am a second generation of Holocaust survivors, where the danger of discrimination, exclusion and intolerance is basically engrained in my DNA. And yet even with my predisposition, I've been unkind to others.

One memory in particular comes to mind.

I'm back at day camp and a fellow camp "friend" had a hearing disability and wore a hearing aid. We rode the bus together and often chatted. She was my first close encounter with a disabled peer.

One day on the bus ride, I derogatorily said, "because you're deaf!" It was similar to Jack Will's off character "bleeding scream" moment. Except I wasn't under any peer pressure.

I was young and don't recall the circumstances surrounding the encounter, but I said that to her and it was cruel. As the words came out of my mouth, her face and demeanor changed. A pit in my stomach formed which wrings out every so often to this day.

There are no backsies.

Suffice to say our friendship was never the same thereafter. Once an incident happens and words are spoken, they can't be undone. Forgiveness does not equate to forgetfulness.

It is often the little moments, stares, sneers, jeers, words that can spark a lifetime of haunts. The repercussions of those experiencing repetitive bullying under varying circumstances can be traumatic and even lead to suicide.

Believe in and support your children.

Auggie is not impenetrable but he has a pretty thick skin. He's used to the comments, sneers and jeers. He has an incredible support system rooted in unconditional love.

His parents, particularly his mother, Isabel, is an angel and miracle worker. Isabel is portrayed brilliantly by Julia Roberts who captured every possible emotion a mom could have in a single look. Despite their family's individual challenges of grappling with life with Auggie, they are a positive, grounded and loving family. He also has teachers and a head school master who accept, protect and support him.

RJ's mom's parenting style was like Isabels, one of unconditional love and believing emphatically in her talents.

Being believed in, seen and accepted predisposes you to choose kindness. Because that's what you know. Conversely, if you know cruelty and don't have your parents, teachers or other supports, it's easier to choose to be unkind. Because that is what you know.

The lingering impacts.

After Auggie is physically and verbally bullied on a school trip, Auggie's mom tells him "you were at the preserve for more than 48 hours, that awful part lasted one hour, don't let them take that from you."

Except that one hour will linger forever.

My words ring in my ears like they were just spoken and the knot returns. She may have forgotten all about it or tucked it away amongst other sticks and stones.

Where our children are concerned, parents come to their defense or spring into offensive action. There's no shortage of blame, guilt or fingers to point.

We cast stones even though we all live in glass houses.

Layering up our cultural resilience, tolerance and compassion levels is key to shifting forward or at least meeting midway.

We begin by meeting each parent and child where they're at. Some children have challenges to even reach the baseline starting point where most other children start.

In Auggie's case, he appears physically inferior but is academically superior to his fifth grade peers. He has a level of empathy only a child who's been sitting on the other side of discrimination can behold.

Is kindness something we each have to learn?

RJ suggests that kindness can't be mandated or demanded. It is learned and inspired via books, stories and experiences. Real live acts of kindness. RJ says, "kindness feels good and is empowering."

Kindness isn't to be confused with nice.

There's a strong but subtle difference in simply being nice versus choosing to be kind. A nice person is a bystander, like Charlotte, in the book. She doesn't have the courage to stand up for Auggie although she does not partake in the bad talk.

Kindness is taking action without expecting a reward.

“If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind." -Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

The ultimate message of "Wonder" is "you are noticed and your actions are noticed. Maybe not immediately or directly or even in a way that seems obvious, but if they’re mean, someone suffers. If they’re kind, someone benefits. And the choice is theirs."

And so, Choose Kind.

Wonder Book & DVD

Please purchase via my Amazon Affiliate Link for which I'd receive an affiliate fee.

(c) 2018 Cynthia Litman. All Rights Reserved.

Related Mommas Pearls Posts:

Adventure Awaits ~ SaltWater Taffy

Disclosure: There was no compensation exchanged for this post. Lionsgate generously provided me a DVD copy of the movie and the opportunity to interview RJ Palacio. All opinions shared are wholeheartedly my own.

Thank you RJ Palacio for your time and for your beautiful pearls!

For more information about RJ Palacio and Wonder please visit her website.

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