“When choosing between being right and being kind, be kind.” Dr. Wayne Dyer
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Dalai Lama
Sometimes we can learn more about life lessons on kindness and self compassion in a children’s book than in any self help or psychology book. This month during a week at the cottage, when I intended to take a break from the world of therapy, I indulged in reading Wonder with my 11 year old daughter. This book taught me a great deal about self compassion from the perspective of kids going through the trials of middle school.
Wonder is story about a middle school child named Auggust Pullman, otherwise known as Auggie. Auggie was born with a craniofacial disfiguration which has kept him out of school for many years, undergoing multiple surgeries. His mother homeschooled him until grade 5. The book begins at this point when starts Beecher Prep Middle School and is exposed to a whole new world of kids who initially treat him very badly.
Each section of the book is written from the perspective of different kids: Auggie, his sister Olivia, his friends Jack, Summer, and his sister’s friends Justin and Miranda. The story travels through the school year starting with his initial introduction to Beecher prep. His appearance is challenging to the school kids who clearly talk behind his back and avoid him in class and the lunchroom. Auggie is the subject of ridicule and downright cruelty from kids who start a game of avoiding and not touching him.
Two kids, Summer and Jack, do befriend Auggie during this school year and see him for who he is – a funny, smart, kind kid who loves Star Wars and feels normal on the inside. Their friendship is challenging to Summer and Jack who are pressured from the peer pressure at school.
This story illustrates the pressure on kids to go against their better nature to be kind and helpful, particularly when their own place in the pack is threatened. One kid, Julian, leads the group of kids to be mean to Auggie and anyone associated with him. To adults, he comes across as a good, all round kid, but behind their backs he causes trouble.
This is how bullying happens, and in many cases, it goes on unseen, causing tremendous suffering for so many kids. The trauma of middle school can stay with people for their entire adult lives and this is where we learn about the consequences of bullying – whether we can stand up to it, or we are victim to it.
Without giving away too much, Wonder does convey the message that we can do something about bullying. We can stand up to it by choosing kindness. This is the central theme of the book and a hashtag has been created around this theme.
The take away message from this book is “Be a little more kind than is necessary.” Since reading Wonder I have been reflecting on this message and trying to practice it whenever possible. The Dalai Lama says that kindness is always possible, but there are always obstacles that make us forget.
The practice of kindness also makes us more aware of moments when others may offer us a little bit more kindness than is necessary. I have been grateful for those moments when others have been generous, patient, and understanding.
Our brains have a negativity bias that draws our attention more to when people are mean or ignorant. Yet by choosing kindness we can override that negativity bias and be open to the kindness and generosity of others. Isn’t that a better way to live?
The book Wonder encourages these conversations about living from our better nature. R. J. Palacio has produced subsequent books to keep the inspiration going, 365 Days of Wonder: Mr Browne’s Precepts, and Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Stories. There is also an app to practice the precepts.
Wonder is a joy to read for both kids and parents and motivated me to write about it on this blog. My daughter was so moved by the story that she created her own iMovie video about it which she would like me to share.