Have you seen the movie yet? Wonder has been in the theaters for a couple of weeks now, but if you have a middle schooler or older elementary age child, chances are you knew that. Kids have been devouring the book Wonder since it was published in 2012. Inspired by an incident with her three year old daughter and the lyrics to a Natalie Merchant song, R.J. Palacio's award winning children's book is not only entertaining, but inspiring and thought-provoking. It's even sparked a movement. You can learn more about the Choose Kind Campaign here.
While I salute the anti-bullying message of the Choose Kind campaign, sparked by quotes from the story such as, "If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind." (Dr. Wayne W. Dyer), and "Shall we make a new rule of life...always to try to be a little kinder than necessary?" (J.M. Barrie), I think the essence of the story's meaning goes deeper than mere kindness. We miss the mark of the hero's deepest desire and cheapen the human emotional response if our aim is simply to be kind.
Kind IS a good place to start. It's a drastic improvement over the alternative, but the heart wants more. Auggie, the story's subject, born with a genetic condition, withstood 27 surgeries from which he bears craniofacial scars. When he starts public school for the first time, he endures a fair share of mean-spirited bullying. But there are other kids who pity him and treat him more compassionately. Yet he still eats lunch alone every day. Kindness in and of itself doesn't fill the hole of isolation. It's not until his classmate Jack accepts an invitation to Auggie's house to work on a science project, that our main character's outlook changes. As Jack spends time with Auggie, he begins to see past his physical differences and embraces the uniqueness of his new friend. Jack begins to care about Auggie. Their relationship is not free of bumps or difficulties, but a friendship endures. Acceptance by Jack, eventually leads to Auggie's acceptance by many. We learn that, "It's not enough to be friendly. You have to be a friend."
We all long to be SEEN and truly KNOWN and loved anyway. Donald W. McCullough in Mastering Personal Growth says, "When we consider the blessings of God - the gifts that add beauty and joy to our lives, that enable us to keep going through stretches of boredom and even suffering - friendship is very near the top."
One of my favorite biblical examples of friendship is the bond between David and Jonathan. 1 Samuel 18:1-3 tells us, "As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father's house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul." It takes a sacrifice of time to knit our soul to another. And in the circles most of us run (and I do mean run) in, time is a precious commodity. But some of it MUST be spent in growing and nurturing relationships. Our Creator hard-wired us for connection. INTIMATE connection. Anything else will ultimately leave us empty.
"Courage. Kindness. FRIENDSHIP [emphasis mine]. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness." - R.J. Palacio, Wonder
"And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God." - R.J. Palacio, Wonder
"Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken." Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NLT