Many of us have no idea how often we wound the people around us. We don’t deliberately set out to hurt others, but because of our natural insensitivity, we frequently stomp on others’ dreams and feelings without even realizing it.

The following video clip illustrates this problem … and how to correct it.

It’s taken from the movie Pursuit of Happyness. This film is based on the true story of Chris Gardner, who is played by Will Smith. Everything in Chris’s life prior to this scene has gone wrong. He was drawn into a bad business deal and lost all of his money. His wife left him. He was evicted from his apartment. He is a failure on every front.

In this scene, he’s taking a few minutes to allow his son, Christopher (played by Smith’s real son, Jadon), the fun of shooting a few hoops. As you watch the clip, listen for the dream Christopher shares with his father. Note how Chris misses the significance of his son’s words, and how thoughtlessly he stifles his child’s hopes for the future.

Watch how Christopher communicates his feelings without saying a word. Then note how quickly Chris reads the cues, sees his mistake, and seeks to repair the damage. See if you can identify his implied confession. (If video screen does not appear below, click here.)

Debrief

Christopher is only five years old, but he already has a plan for how he will rise above the poverty that grips his family: like so many kids in his position, he dreams of “going pro.”

Chris is a good father. He has a legitimate parental concern that his son not put all of his hopes into the unlikely prospect of becoming a sports star.

But Chris is not self-aware at the outset of this conversation. He doesn’t take the time to examine his own heart and realize how much his own fears and sense of failure are fueling his desire to protect his son from failure.

Nor is Chris sufficiently other-aware. He fails to realize how his son is processing his father’s string of financial and relational disasters, which have turned their lives upside down. Chris also forgets how exciting and yet fragile a little boy’s dreams can be, and how easily they can be shattered. Most of all, he forgets that a father’s words are magnified in a child’s ears and often have a far greater impact than intended.

So rather than measuring his words wisely, Chris blurts out a valid but badly worded warning to his son.

Christopher tries to respond respectfully, but when the impact of his father’s words hits home, the little guy folds up emotionally. He throws his precious basketball—the symbol of his dreams—aside. His countenance falls, his head and shoulders slump. He loses all joy in the game of his dreams, and dejectedly dumps his ball into a bag … probably thinking he’ll never throw it again.

But then the engagement takes a remarkable turn. Chris picks up on the cues his son has sent him. He realizes that he has hurt and discouraged his child. Instead of blaming others or making excuses for his actions, or simply telling his son to “man up,” he does just the opposite: he examines his own heart to discern the source of his insensitive words.

And he finds it … his own failures in life. Below average at basketball. Foolish business investment. Unable to support his family. Abandoned by his wife. Evicted by his landlord. Sleeping in the subway. He feels like he can’t do anything right, and he fears his son may get caught in a similar downward spiral if he puts his hopes in becoming a basketball star.

Chris can’t quite bring himself to make an explicit confession of how his own failures fueled his words, so he makes an indirect statement: “People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you you can’t do it.” Not as good as it could have been, but better than many parents would manage in similar circumstances.

Chris then attempts to repair some of the damage he’s caused. He exhorts his son not to let anyone tell him he can’t do something, not even his father. He goes on to urge Christopher to protect his dreams, ending with this unforgettable advice, “If you want something, go get it. Period.” Words that echo the wisdom of Solomon: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Eccl. 9:10).

Watch and Grow

In spite of his initial insensitivity and clumsy communication, Chris salvages this situation and turns it into an opportunity to understand and engage his son in a way that bonds them even more closely together. Here are a few ways you can learn from his example.

  • Watch the clip again and pay even closer attention to the way both father and son communicate their thoughts, fears, and feelings. Strive to improve your ability to pick up on body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and to discern the emotions behind these cues.
  • Ask yourself, “When have I blown it like this, not only with a child but with my spouse, friends, or co-workers?” “What was the source of my failure to be sensitive to the concerns, dreams, and feelings of others?” (Too busy. Wrapped up in my own concerns. Too lazy to really listen. Afraid to get involved. Just didn’t care.) Then ask God to change those things in your heart that keep you from really caring, listening to, and serving others (Ezek. 36:26-27).
  • Chris made an indirect confession, as many of us do. What would an explicit confession sound like? (see the Seven A’s of Confession)
  • Hollywood rarely portrays God’s sovereign role in life, so you usually need to complete the picture yourself. Imagine that you just had this kind of conversation (or watched this movie) with your children. What biblical concepts could you use to help your children become more God-aware, to see the relevance of the gospel, and to eagerly discover and develop their God-given gifts? (See Gen. 1:27; Exod. 35:30-35; Eccl. 9:10; Jer. 29:11; Matt. 25:14-20; 1Cor. 6:19-20; 1Cor. 10:31; 1Cor. 12:4-5; Titus 2:11-14)
  • As you go through today, study the people around you more slowly and thoughtfully. Ask yourself: “What are his dreams? How can I encourage him?” “What is she feeling? Why?” “How have I wounded or failed to understand this person?” “How can I make that right today?”

Watch with Wisdom

This movie contains some course language and includes some distressing scenes as Chris grapples with marital failure, financial setbacks, homelessness, and near despair. While some of these scenes may be unsettling to young children, they could help older children develop more empathy for homeless and unemployed people. For a detailed review of its content, see Plugged In or IMDb.

– Ken Sande

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2013 Ken Sande

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