Let’s define the word “precept” as “a central rule intended to regulate behavior or thought.”
Differently offered, “a statement that helps you focus the way you live.” It has been said you can find a precept in a book you’re reading, a song you have heard or in a fortune cookie.”
I fancy myself a bit of a word merchant, but I did not previously think much about precepts — until, that is, two days after Thanksgiving when I went to a heart-wrenching/heart-warming movie playing in theaters all over the country. The movie is “Wonder,” and it’s full of precepts. Both stated and demonstrated.
My favorite precept, which you will hear discussed about 12 minutes into the movie (wait for it) — or in Chapter 17 of the book by the same name — states: “When given the choice between being right and being kind … choose kind.”
I plan to have T-shirts made up for all our grandchildren with that commandment emblazoned on the front — maybe on the back too. Coming or going in these bullying-filled times, we all need reminders to “choose kind.”
You will know I am thoroughly smitten by my recent theater experience with “Wonder” and its characters when I tell you I just ordered three copies of the book that inspired the movie. More gifting planned. The book is by R.J. Palacio and was published in 2012. For the record, I think it’s No. 18 on Amazon’s all-time list of must-read books. Although I may be overstating that just a bit in my eagerness to spread the “choose kind” concept.
This is a novel catalyzed by one of the first-time author’s life experiences with her two young children. Her child’s tearful reaction to visible facial deformity in another child prompted reflection and a desire to educate. It’s amazing that a book with a reading audience primarily of middle-schoolers can be so complex and impactful. The author refers to the book as a “meditation on kindness." Movie reviews describe it as a “moving tale of a facially different boy with inner beauty.”
The main character is August “Augie” Pullman, a fifth-grader living in New York City with his long-suffering older sister, his caring and protective parents and a dog named Daisy. Augie was born with rare and significant facial differences, caused by a chromosomal abnormality. The book and movie depict how he struggles with his situation and how his school and his community react and relate to him. Bring tissues.
It gets five-star reviews from just about everyone. One person said it like this: “This book should be required reading for every human being who lives on the planet. I am a 54-year-old grandfather who served in the Marine Corps (just a little context). I am not an emotional person, but this book was incredibly moving. I cannot believe how the author so accurately and consistently pegs human nature. This book is a “novel” — yeah, right! This is real life! If you ever desired to be a better person, this book can help you start the journey.”
— Sharon Johnson is executive director of Age-Friendly Innovators Inc. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.