Today’s movie clip is one of my favorites. It illustrates several key relational skills, including empathy, self-control, and the use of perceptive questions rather than forceful arguments.
The clip is taken from the movie, Spanglish. Its central character, Flor, is a single, Hispanic mother who has immigrated to the United States with her young daughter, Cristina. Flor gets a job as a housekeeper for an Anglo couple, John and Deborah Clasky. Deborah becomes fond of Cristina and starts to treat her as a daughter, taking her shopping and getting her a scholarship to a private school.
As the characters surmount various challenges together, Flor realizes that she and John are developing a dangerously close relationship. More importantly, she senses that Cristina is being pulled away from her Latin roots. Therefore, Flor decides to quit her job and take her daughter out of the private school.
The entire movie is a portrayal of an essay Cristina wrote years after these events took place, as she was applying for a scholarship to Princeton University. Therefore, in the clip you will watch, you will hear Cristina’s voice narrating, explaining both the situation and what she and her mother were thinking and feeling during this relational crisis.
As you watch the scene, note how Cristina’s emotions hijack her mind and her mouth, changing a typically mature and self-controlled teen into a volcano of angry words. Note her mother’s amazing restraint and the wisdom with which she handles her daughter’s outburst. Look for the critical moment when Flor brings her own emotions under control and discerns the critical question that Cristina must face. (If video screen does not appear below, click here.)
This clip vividly illustrates the remarkable relational wisdom of this young mother. The fruit of her labors is revealed early in the movie when a teacher at Princeton is reading Cristina’s application essay for admission (years after the events of the movie have taken place). The essay begins with these words, “Most influential person in my life: my mother … no contest.”
As you watch this clip, you can see why Cristina developed such a deep love and respect for her mother. Here are a few illustrations of Flor’s relational wisdom.
When Cristina explodes in anger, Flor does not react in kind. Instead she demonstrates empathy (other-awareness), patience, and gentleness as she seeks to calm her daughter with a gentle answer (Prov. 15:1). When gentle words do not calm Cristina, Flor wisely turns and walks silently to the bus stop, giving her daughter time to get her emotions under control (other-engagement).
When Cristina said “I need some space,” Flor’s emotions flared for a moment, since her greatest fear was the distance she sensed growing between the two of them. But she quickly reined her feelings in (more self-control) and used both her nurturing instincts and rational thinking to discern and gently pose the crucial identity question of Cristina’s life: “Is what you want for yourself to become someone very different … than me.”
Flor’s bulls-eye other-awareness provides a beautiful demonstration of an old proverb: “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
One of the most impressive characteristics of this engaging mother was her ability to authentically experience her emotions without letting them hijack her thinking or overpower her daughter. Even the tears she sheds as she asks her question are measured … enough to demonstrate the depth of her love and concern but not so much as to cause Cristina to recoil.
Most importantly, Flor demonstrated profound wisdom when she choose to resist the temptation to rebuke or lecture her daughter. Instead Flor gently but firmly presented Cristina with the pivotal question that she needed to answer for herself … and live with for the rest of her life.
Cristina rose to the occasion, moving to a deeper level of self-awareness that enabled her to brush aside the pain of losing her scholarship and find profound meaning and security in her relationships with her mother, which she articulates in this climactic statement: “My identity rests firmly on one fact: I am my mother’s daughter.”
Watch and Grow
- Watch the clip a second time and observe more closely how Flor and Cristina communicate their emotions, concerns, and convictions through a variety of channels, including their words, tone of voice, eyes, and subtle body language (such as Cristina’s tiny smile and Flor’s soft shake of her head in the final scene). Learn to read these kinds of cues.
- Think of a time when someone tried to lecture you through a life crisis. Did it help? Why or why not?
- Think of someone who is particularly skilled at asking the right question at the right time, not to compel an answer or force others into a corner, but to help them come up with answers that they could own and follow. Watch that person in action and learn to imitate his or her wisdom.
Watch with Wisdom
This movie is rich with relational tensions and lessons. The contrast between Flor’s and Deborah’s relational skills is particularly striking. The movie does contain some profanity, and there are two scenes that involve sexual interplay between John and Deborah (the first at 17 minutes and the second at 37), which you would want to skip over if watching with young children. For a detailed review of its content, see Plugged In or IMDb.
– Ken Sande
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© 2013 Ken Sande
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