Choosing Kind

Choosing Kind

“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Before the holidays began this year, a new movie called Wonder premiered based on a book of the same title written by R.J. Palacio. This is a story about a middle-school boy named Auggie who has a facial deformity and struggles to learn to trust new friends as he begins his journey in a public school setting. He is bullied, shamed, and loses a bit of his child-like trust on this journey. More importantly though, Wonder reveals through several narrators how one act of kindness by one person can make ripples throughout an entire student population. This story really left me wondering about the way I treated my peers growing up and even now. I have asked myself, “Have I chosen kind over being right?” The answer is not always.

R.J. Palacio wrote this story after her own child had an encounter with a girl with a facial deformity, and her response was to remove her crying toddler and leave. Since that moment, she has felt guilt and anger about her actions. Why? Because she missed out on an opportunity to show her child how to react in kindness. She missed out on a moment to teach her child that just because someone looks different from us, our first response should never be to run away, even though that is often easier. We should choose kindness, even in uncomfortable moments.

The interesting part about how she tells the story of Wonder is that it is based on the children’s perspectives. The adults are shown through the eyes of their children which helps us understand a little more about what is being modeled in their homes. The bully in this story is shown with his parents one time, and that one moment is enough insight for us to see that he has only been told that he is never good enough. We see how a friend’s home life is nothing but a mother who drinks and is never there to support her. This friend ends up lying all the time and distancing herself from what she sees as a ‘perfect family’. These are teaching moments for how quick we are to judge others, to be right, and to justify our actions, but we are often slow to choose kindness.

Wonder does an excellent job of setting up on how our negative reactions can bring another person down. As Auggie struggles to cope with overtly negative interactions, he becomes distant, sad, and disinterested in things he enjoys. The thing that changes him slowly is when one person makes a choice to sit with him at lunch. That’s it. One person showed up and started a ripple effect. I know it may seem like a fantastical set up, that only one person can have an impact, but according to relationship experts, multiple positive interactions with one person can actually make up for negative interactions.

The magical ratio for positive to negative interactions is 5:1 and was originally developed by John Gottman. This ratio means that for every 1 negative interaction, it takes 5 positive interactions to overcome that 1 negative moment. How powerful is it that to overcome one negative comment we need five positive comments to feel better? Our human nature calls for us to need positive interactions on an emotional, physical, and spiritual level in order to thrive. Otherwise we simply struggle to cope as Auggie does in Wonder. I have no doubt that we can all remember a person who has hurt us and never made up for it in some way, those memories are more prominent because we need positivity to continue on. One moment of kindness changes everything within us.

Teenagers are primed to be shown how to be kind, what steps it takes to stand up to for themselves or for others, and the majority want to do what is kind but may be intimidated. Wonder talks about ‘precepts’ and how these are words to live by, they’re kind of like life quotes that reflect a person’s values. I think the easiest step to take in making a decision to be kind is to choose our own precept and then encourage teens to find theirs. R.J. Palacio even wrote a companion book to Wonder all about precepts because she believes it is important enough for everyone to understand how our thoughts speak into our words, and our words are turned into actions.

NPR did a quick interview with R.J. Palacio on her inspiration which I touched on briefly.

This link gives more insight into how the 5:1 ratio can be applied in a classroom like setting.

Shelbie Fowler is currently a volunteer for Teen Life and has her Masters in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.

5 Christmas Movie Lessons for Teens

5 Christmas Movie Lessons for Teens

I may have a Christmas movie problem…I love them all! The classics, the musicals, the cartoons, the cheesy ones, the funny ones, the Hallmark ones and everything in between. If it deals with Santa or snow, count me in! To some, these movies may feel silly, boring, or annoying. But they would be wrong, and I am about to prove to you why you (and your teenagers) need Christmas movies in your life.

Most follow the “Christmas Movie Formula” which usually includes a problem at the beginning, a love interest being introduced, a conflict that causes everything to derail before the happily ever after. I’ll admit, many Christmas movies are predictable, but I dare you to find a genre of movies that includes more hope, joy, or inspiration.

Plus the Christmas music. And the snow. Come on!! How could you not love these movies?!

Christmas movies have lessons that apply to life in general, but these lessons specifically apply to teenagers. If the students in our Support Groups grasped these lessons, I truly believe their lives would look completely different.

So here we go…below are 5 lessons that we can learn from the greatest movies of all time. (Please note that there are spoilers. If you have not seen any of these movies, stop what you are doing, go borrow it from your friend, and have a movie night.)

Everyone needs a place to belong. (Elf)

In this hilarious and heartwarming story about Buddy the Elf’s journey to find his family, it is easy to see the importance of belonging. Despite the silliness and sugar obsession, Buddy is desperately seeking a place to belong. In this movie, there is a transformation that takes place in the life of Buddy and all those around him when he becomes his best self under the love and care of a family.

Teenagers are the same way. They desperately want a place to belong and feel safe. They want to be accepted for themselves. Please do not overlook this! We can encourage teens, give them a place to belong, surround them with people who will invest in their lives, and find situations for them to excel. Teens look to peers, but mostly they are going to look to you for belonging that lasts.

 

The small things make a big difference. (It’s a Wonderful Life)

This movie is the definition of a holiday classic. It tells the story of George Bailey and his life that is successful not because of the big things, but because of the small things that have added up over a lifetime. After wondering if his life was worth living, the movie ends with the most beautiful picture of people from all stages of life – people who benefitted from the small things.

Teenagers need to understand that the small things they do matter. Showing up at school, being kind, respecting parents and teachers, serving others, being honest – these small things add up over time and can change lives. Let us encourage the small things, and not just the big accomplishments. Look for ways to praise and recognize the everyday successes.

 

Using your gifts & talents is key to success. (Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

Who doesn’t love these animated Christmas movies?! Rudolf and Hermy the elf decide to run away together to escape the judgement and shame their differences bring. While others have made them believe that their differences make them wrong and weird, they eventually realize that their skills and talents make them uniquely qualified to help in ways others cannot – even saving Christmas!

How many times do teenagers feel this way? They think that they are different and failing because they do not have the right opportunities to actually use the things they are good at. Helping teenagers find their passion and talents is crucial to them finding success. They are going to fail in areas where they feel incompetent. Instead, encourage their skills, point out their gifts, and help teens find opportunities to utilize them.

 

Progress is important, no matter how small. (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

The Grinch is a classic Christmas redemption story. We start with a grouchy, Christmas-hating, exiled character and watch him transform into a lovable Grinch with a heart that is too big and cheeks that are warm. The catch is that he made small changes throughout the entire story, but Cindy Lou Who was the only one who noticed.

So many times, teenagers stop making progress because they don’t feel like their small changes are being recognized or making a difference. They are so wrong, though! When they pull their grade up 3 points, get an extra hour of sleep, offer to help with a chore without being asked add up over time and make a major impact. Progress and change, no matter how small should be celebrated.

 

 

A little hope and a lot of community go a long way. (White Christmas)

This is my very favorite Christmas movie, no contest. And I cry at the end every single time during “The Old Man” scene where 151st division comes together to honor General Waverly. After the General is rejected by the army and is only left with his struggling inn, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis decide to bring his community together to help out. Surrounded by loved ones and with the hope of snow and more profitable days, the General’s attitude completely transforms.

Teenagers need community and hope. This is the number one thing that we find in our Support Groups. When they find a place to belong and see hope that their future can be different, they will change their attitude and actions. When teens are struggling, hope is the first thing we should look to offer!

 

What do you think of these Christmas movie lessons? Do you have other favorite Christmas movies that we can learn from? We would love to hear from you!

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.