Sunday, December 6, 2015

Mindful or Mindless? Analyzing Characters in Books and Movies


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In interview last year, Meena Srinivasan gave suggestions for the best children's books about mindfulness, but added that: 
"I think it’s also incredibly important to help your children/students see how characters in other books use mindfulness (even though they may not call it that) or how the characters are in need of mindfulness... Engaging with young people through a social emotional lens on books they are already interested in reading can be very effective."   

It seems to me that we could all benefit from doing this.  Every time we read a book or watch a film or TV show, we could take a moment to think about how the characters did or didn't show mindfulness, gratitude, compassion, and so on.

So here are some questions to consider as you watch and read your favorite stories.  (Teachers can use them as a worksheet and/or a springboard for class discussion.)


Present-Moment Awareness
1. Is there a time when a character fully realizes and appreciates what’s happening in the present moment?  What happens?  Does it affect the rest of the story?  How? 
2. Is there a time when a character is not aware of the present moment?  What happens?  Does it affect the rest of the story?  How? 
3. If you were in this story, what (if anything) would you do differently?  Why?


Mindful Speech
1. Is there a time when a character says something true, helpful, and kind?  What does he or she say?  Does it affect the rest of the story?  How? 
2. Is there a time when a character says something untrue, unhelpful, and/or unkind?  What does he or she say?  Does it affect the rest of the story?  How? 
3. If you were in this story, what (if anything) would you do differently?  Why?


Compassion
1. Is there a time when a character shows compassion toward another person or animal?  What does he or she do?  Does it affect the rest of the story?  How? 
2. Is there a time when a character does not show compassion toward another person or animal?  What does he or she do?  Does it affect the rest of the story?  How? 
3. If you were in this story, what (if anything) would you do differently?  Why?


Here's an example of what this might look like for adolescents or adults:  it's from one of my favorite French films, Paris, starring Juliette Binoche and Romain Duris (contains spoilers):
Appreciating the Present Moment 
Pierre is on his way to the hospital for an operation that may or may not save his life.  He gazes longingly out the taxi window at the city and at the people strolling by.  
While this doesn't change the plot of the movie, it's an important moment because it makes the audience realize the things other characters (and we ourselves) are taking for granted. 
Mindful Speech
Pierre's sister Elise tells her colleagues she'll be reducing her hours because she needs "more time for myself."  She doesn't explain that it's because she has to take care of her seriously-ill brother, and responds coldly to their complaints that they're already overworked and also need time for themselves.   
What she says is true, but she says it in a way that's unhelpful.  Her colleagues respond in an unkind way, assuming that she's being selfish.
If I were Elise, I'd explain that I had a family emergency, and I'd apologize for burdening them with extra work.  If I were one of her colleagues, I'd talk to her quietly after the meeting to find out why she suddenly needed to reduce her work hours. 
Compassion
When she stops at a street market to buy food for dinner, Elise watches one of the vendors offer to make a free delivery for an elderly woman who's having trouble carrying her purchases. 
This small compassionate action has a big impact on the story: Social worker Elise teases the vendor about being in the same line of work; this begins a flirtation that leads to a romantic relationship. 

And here's an example of what this activity might look like with younger children, using quotes from Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne.
Appreciating the Moment 
"'Well,' said Pooh, 'what I like best,' and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called."
Mindful Speech
"Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem."
Compassion
“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today," said Pooh. 
"There there," said Piglet. "I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.” 

Come to think of it, those are all good messages for adults, too...

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related posts:

The Best Children's Books about Mindfulness (interview)

Recommended Mindfulness Books

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1 comment:

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