Brian Hamilton: Choose kindness; see what happens
ABOUT THE BOOK
“Wonder” by R.J. Palacio shares the story of August “Auggie” Pullman, a 10-year-old boy who just wants to be normal, but a birth abnormality has meant he’s been considered to be “different” by most, for most of his life.
“I know I’m not an ordinary 10-year-old kid,” the book opens. “I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in the playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.
“If I found a magic lamp and could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all. I would wish that I could walk down the street without people seeing me and then doing that look-away thing. Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.”
One of the most-anticipated movies of the year — at least at the Hamilton household — arrives this holiday season, and I encourage everyone — and I do mean everyone — to go see it.
No, I’m not talking Star Wars. But I wouldn’t be surprised if those watching “Wonder” left the theater with full confidence that the Force, in fact, is fully with them.
Full disclosure? I’ve not yet seen “Wonder.” But I know the story. I know the message. I know the impact.
It’s worth your time, and of those with whom you share.
“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
Seems simple enough, right?
But, as we all know, those wise words of Wayne Dyer are not as easily applied in the righteousness of the “real world,” where we just know our way of thinking is true and correct and those who disagree, well, they just don’t get it.
Not easily done, that is, unless we keep it just as simple as it sounds.
Choose kindness. See what happens.
I saw firsthand the impact it had on our daughter, who was introduced to that message when her fourth-grade teacher, Paul Stackhouse, read “Wonder” to his Cottage Hill Elementary class. Our girl was so struck by the message that it became her theme for the Nevada County Speech Tournament.
And that’s where Kim Honeywell, of the Nevada County Suicide Prevention Task Force, heard the message and asked our then 10 year old to share it again with Truckee’s version of the task force a few days later.
And that’s where Brian Williams, of Think Kindness, heard the message and posted a video of the speech. The connection helped to later bring his organization’s kindness program to Alta Sierra, Magnolia and Cottage Hill schools.
And that somewhat brought the message full circle, all thanks to the single act of kindness of Mr. Stackhouse sharing “Wonder” with his students.
Of course, being a proud parent and wanting to show how one act of kindness can make an impact, I couldn’t resist writing about this a few years ago. I closed the column with a hat tip to Mr. Stackhouse, noting “We should all be — or have been — so fortunate to benefit from the inspiration of such a great teacher.”
Turns out the ripple effect doesn’t end there.
Recently, regular reader Ralph Hitchcock let me know that a few years ago he had emailed that column to his daughter, Sarah Leonard, “a product of local schools from Nevada City Elementary through (Nevada Union)” and now a teacher in Aptos.
“Last year, she got me to read ‘Wonder,’” Ralph continued, “which I thought was very good and it was great that her fourth-graders were reading it.” Ralph was also kind enough to include Sarah in his email to me, which led to somewhat of an impromptu book club sort of discussion of the book.
“I am torn,” Sarah wrote. “I don’t know if I will see the film. I just learned Julia Roberts plays the mom and Owen Wilson the dad. Hmm, already I am worried I will lose all of my imaginative characters in my head.”
Sarah also discussed how R.J. Palacio conveyed “the internal dialogue of young people and the nuances of the social terrain,” noting one moment when a character wasn’t so kind and goes with the crowd, rather than standing up for a friend.
The conflict, she said, can be “a touchstone for kiddos who don’t have a strong enough core,” she wrote. “Painful and joyful to look back at my own trials at that age and rewarding to see my fourth graders, each year, being expanded due to this book, similar to your daughter.”
Such insight into the minds of a 10 year old shouldn’t surprise, coming from a teacher.
But I was surprised when Sarah told me she was a former student of Mr. Stackhouse — Mr. Milton Stackhouse, Paul’s father, who former Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer recently told me was both well known and well loved throughout the community. (Paul Stackhouse, by the way, was among our community’s educators who were deservedly honored earlier this month at the Nevada County Teacher of the Year banquet).
The connections, it seems, continue to come forward from that first act of kindness by Paul Stackhouse. My hope is the film can help spread this important and inspirational message to an even wider audience on the big screen.
So as we celebrate Thanksgiving this week with family and friends, reflecting with gratitude, love and kindness, maybe consider catching a movie together. There’s one playing over at the Del Oro that I anticipate will be a great film for an audience of all ages.
And even if the movie version of “Wonder” falls short of the book — isn’t that always the case? — the message remains the same.
Choose kindness. See what happens.
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at email@example.com or 530-477-4249.
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