Disney’s new live-action film, Cinderella, came out in theaters this past March. The movie is visually-dazzling, reminiscent of the 1950 animated classic but with a more modern heroine and theme. If movies have mission statements, Cinderella’s is “Have courage, and be kind.” Those seem like sweet, even appropriate words. Of course we should possess both of those attributes. But, it might not be as simple as it seems. Discussions of courage and kindness may suggest separate characteristics, but throughout the movie we come to understand that in many ways they are impossibly intertwined.
We receive messages from a young age about being kind. We are taught to share our toys, invite everyone to play on the playground, don’t bully, care about others, give to those less fortunate, and on it goes. This seems fairly standard with little room for confusion. For women, the message to be courageous is a newer concept with a push in the last half century (or less) concerning the empowerment of women. For myself and many of my adult friends, our moms were being raised just as this shift in thinking was taking place. Therefore, the messages they received (and probably passed down to us) are confusing at best. There are times we are encouraged to be courageous, take a stand and/or speak up; other times the same actions will have us labeled as a ____. Often we face an implied choice, am I going to stand up for myself OR be kind and thoughtful? More specifically, am I going to choose me or you?
I enjoy the movie’s combination of the messages – courage and kindness. As our society moves toward a more uniform definition and acceptance of empowering women and young girls, it is imperative we teach our young girls how to do both simultaneously. If we continue to focus primarily on kindness and then slip in little blurbs focusing on empowerment, the message of courage and empowerment is not a solid one.
Courage, by definition, is having strength in the face of either frightening or less than ideal circumstances. We can be kind while we exhibit courage and many times it takes a lot of courage to be kind. Here are nine lessons we can model and teach our young girls that combine the two messages:
- We can love and care for others, but we are not responsible for them or their feelings. Therefore, speaking up is not going against those we care for. And if someone speaks up for themselves, they are not necessarily in opposition to us. As long as we are respectful, we can speak up and continue to be kind.
- We are not kind to others because they either deserve it or not. We are kind to others because of who we are and what we stand for.
- Commit to face conflict. Many of us don’t like conflict, it is uncomfortable. Facing conflict with calmness, kindness and confidence can be a game changer. Most good relationships have learned how to do conflict well. If we are hiding our conflicts or not addressing them, we are missing opportunities for self-growth, relational growth and teaching (our kids).
- Facing conflict takes practice. Continue practicing! Just because it is hard doesn’t mean we should give up.
- There is a difference between conflict and bullying. Conflict is about ideas. Bullying is putting down someone’s character. We can face conflict while not condoning bullying. In our intolerance, we should not bully someone in return; rather, we can calmly decide not to deal with someone who is choosing this path of communication. If they want to interact with us, they will learn the difference.
- If we believe in empowerment for us, then we believe in empowerment for others. Learn to be tolerate and not take it personally when others present their thoughts and ideas.
- Being kind means being patient with others’ humanness (as we would want them to be with ours). Sometimes, when we are assertive, the initial response is not positive. It can take courage but be kind to others and allow them to correct their mistakes (if they choose).
- Demonstrate the confidence to respectfully listen to ideas different than our own and deal with people different than us. This doesn’t mean one of us is wrong and the other right, we are simply different.
- My life will be better off when I have the courage to admit mistakes and learn from them. Life will continue to give us lessons…it takes bravery but we keep learning.
Cinderella eventually grasped how she can be both courageous and kind. I hope to do the same. There probably won’t be a fairy tale ending or a happily ever after but if we persevere there can be rewards. The biggest reward is a journey of feeling better about myself, more confident, while having rewarding relationships with others who can also feel good about themselves. In reality, I don’t have to choose between me and others.