Back in June, I shared Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton (Walker Books 2014) as the book of the month and wrote about how introverts are undervalued in the modern society. At school, jocks and jokers are the popular ones but not the quiet book warms. At work, employers tend to look for team-working and leadership qualities in interviewees. In dating scenes, confident and bubbly people are preferred to those who are at the other end of the spectrum. If someone describe her latest date as ‘a nice guy’, somehow it never sounds like a proper complement. How did we get to this point where these soft personalities (kind, nice, gentle, quiet, modest etc) are seen as good but not good enough?
In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain points out that current education system heavily focuses on group activities to produce more leader materials who we believe to be more successful in life. To do well in these activities, you need to be loud or charismatic to get your peers’ attention and make your voice literally heard. It wouldn’t be surprise if kids grow up thinking strong traits = successful = desirable, hence soft traits = undesirable = bad.
But it’s not true, is it?
In the eulogy of veteran US Democrat Elijah Cummings, Mr Barack Obama said:
“Being a strong man includes being kind. There’s nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There’s nothing weak about looking out for others. You’re not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect.”
As World Kindness Day (the 13th Nov) is approaching, to celebrate and champion soft power, I’d like to share one of my favourite picture books published last year – How To Be A Lion by Ed Vere (Puffin Books 2018).
This is the latest book from one of my favourite author-illustrator Ed Vere (Banana, Mr Big and Max series). You would think all lions are and should be strong and fierce, wouldn’t you? Because that what we were/are taught. But not our protagonist Leonard. Leonard the lion is a gentle beast. He likes his quiet time alone, daydreaming and writing poems. When Leonard met Marianne the duck, instead of crunch-crunch-chomping her, he asks her a favour:
“I’m writing a poem,” said Leonard, “but I’m stuck. Will you help me?”
“You’re in luck,” said Marianne. “I’m a poetic duck.”
They quickly hit it off. By day, they enjoy long meandering conversations. At night, they contemplate on if the universe has edges.
One day a pack of fierce lions come confronting them and accuse Leonard for not chomping a duck and for his un-lion-like manner. They says there’s only one way to be a lion. This confrontation lead Leonard to an identity crisis.
However, Marianne encourages him to prove them wrong. Together they compose a touching poem about the importance of being yourself, and Leonard recites it to the other lions quietly.
The most profound lines in the books read “Some say words can’t change the world. Leonard says, if they make you think, then maybe they can.” And Leonard knows there’s no need to roar for these words to be heard.
Ed Vere’s simple and bold illustrations are contradictorily full of sensibility and tenderness. He can express gentleness of Leonard with a few simple brush strokes. I love the colour scheme (delightful shades of orange and yellow) too, which transports you to hot Savanna. It also reflects the warmth of the story.
In his Instagram post, Ed Vere wrote:
It was written in 2016 at the time of the US election to counter Donald Trump’s voice and narrow/brittle concept of masculinity, which I thought would dangerously filter down to children. If we want to counter that voice and live in a world with kindness and compassion we need to teach those ideas at an early age. How to be a Lion suggests that compassion, empathy and creativity are strengths, not weaknesses.
This story might be about the concept of masculinity, but I think this book is for everyone. No wonder this book won the Oscar’s Book Prize this year. We need more books like this.
Happy World Kindness Day, everyone!