The “Wonder” of Learning Compassion for Those Who Don’t Deserve it

Photo by Jess Zoerb on Unsplash

The first time I watched the movie, “Wonder” (2017), admittedly, I figured it would be another cliché story designed to make us feel sorry for a disadvantaged kid being bullied at school.

I hated bullies. I remember being picked on as a child (or at least I remember feeling like I was picked on), and because of it, I developed a deep, pent-up resentment that I carried with me into early adulthood.

I thought that the movie, “Wonder”, would either be a redemptive movie for victims; or a tragedy to show how unfair life could be.

It was a little of both; but not in the way I expected.

WARNING: If you haven’t seen the movie, the following contains spoilers.

“Wonder” (2017) is a movie about a kid named Auggie Pullman (played by Jacob Tremblay) whose deformed facial features cause him to feel ‘broken’ and fearful of what others might think of him.

As he prepares to go to a regular public school, he is met with some of the stereotypical antagonists we’d expect in a movie like this, and experiences bullying, mocking, and betrayal. However, the genius of the story is how it takes us through those experiences, and then shows us a completely different point of view.

Instead of fueling our hate for the antagonists, the movie gives us a deeper look into the lives of each of the individuals portrayed as antagonists.

Throughout the movie, short backstories reveal each antagonist’s personal fears and struggles which gives insight into how each one of them is also ‘broken’, but in ways that don’t show up on the outside.

By the end, we find ourselves developing compassion for each of the antagonists; so much so that they no longer feel like antagonists to us, but rather co-protagonists; each with their own problems and struggles. Auggie’s outside frailty is diminished by his inner strength, and by the end, he becomes a hero by overcoming his vulnerability and by setting the example for others to follow.

As I reflect on my own life, I consider all the years I held resentment toward those who I felt caused me sorrow. It was almost as if by being unwilling to forgive or understand the actions of others, I would eventually find some kind of justice for my injured feelings, but I never did.

However, the truth is that most of those who hurt me as a child probably don’t even remember me, much less remember how they caused me to feel. In the end, my pent-up resentment didn’t hurt them, nor did it redeem me. The only thing it did was cause me to continually hurt.

I was always taught that I should forgive others. But even if I believed in that idea, I didn’t know how to do it. It’s one thing to say we forgive on the outside, and another thing to actually feel it.

My sense of justice wouldn’t allow me to accept the wrongs of others without some kind of reconciliation. ‘After all,’ I thought, ‘how will they learn their lesson? How will they change if they never feel the pain they’ve caused me?’.

This way of thinking caused me to carry the burden of resentment for many years. The truth is, even if we could ‘teach others a lesson’, it isn’t really our place to do so. And in my experience, life seems to have a way of taking care of all the ‘lesson teaching’ needed, without our help. But perhaps most importantly, ‘teaching others a lesson’ doesn’t heal our injured feelings. Rather, it tends to make us feel even worse.

At one point in my young adult life, I recognized that all this pent-up resentment was just hurting me and no one else. I realized that I needed to find a way to let it go and truly forgive.

The change came for me when I finally acknowledged one simple truth; which is that everyone wants to be happy.

Everyone’s motivation to choose good or bad behavior is the same; they believe that the choice they make will cause them to be happier than they currently are!

However, because we don’t always understand the consequences of our choices, we often spend our lives doing things that hurt others to find greater happiness for ourselves. Unfortunately, this kind of happiness is short-lived and empty, and it quickly leads to greater sorrow.

I began to recognize that those who were doing the hurting were more miserable than those they hurt. I realized that they were failing in their attempt to find happiness, and were suffering even more inside than I was. Through this newfound perspective, I became less angry and started to develop compassion for them.

Instead of seeing them as big tough bullies standing over me; taking senseless pleasure in my misery, I began to see them as frightened little children quivering beneath me; lashing out because they were suffering from their own problems and unable to find resolution in their own lives.

By seeing others as struggling protagonists of their own stories, I discovered that the resentment I felt was quickly replaced by real compassion. Instead of a need for justice, I felt mercy and a desire for them to find a better way.

Though it wasn’t always possible or appropriate for me to reach out to them, I found that just feeling that compassion for them in my heart helped me replace my own pain with peace.

I had a friend who once said; “I used to struggle to have patience with people, but now I struggle to have patience with those who don’t have it.”

At the time, I didn’t fully understand what he meant, but looking back now, I believe he meant that he used to struggle to have compassion for those who didn’t deserve it, and then realized that not having compassion, even for those who don’t deserve it, is a weakness we all must learn to overcome for us to find true happiness.

We often go through the story of our lives feeling resentment for those we see as antagonists; bullies, betrayers, and villains. However, as we begin to see them for who they are; the struggling protagonists within their own stories; we start to realize that all of us are villains and victims on some level.

We are all co-protagonists in the same story, and the only way for any of us to find any real peace is to try to see things through the eyes of those who have hurt us and learn to develop compassion for them, especially when we think they don’t deserve it.

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Mylo's Minute

Mylo's Minute

Contemplating life and seeking balance, peace, and purpose in all of it.