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For Better Relationships, Be Like Moana!

Moana and Te Ka

There is a scene in the movie Moana that I believe depicts the truth about human beings and is the key to having better relationships.

[Spoiler alert!]

In the scene, Te Ka, a lava monster, is getting ready to destroy Moana. Moana sees the monster is missing its heart. Instead of retreating, she asks the ocean to part so that Te Ka can walk towards her. As the water moves aside to reveal a trail of ocean floor, Moana, tiny compared to the angry, fiery lava monster, stands tall, walks towards Te Ka, and softly but firmly says:

I have crossed the horizon to find you

I know your name

They have stolen the heart from inside you

But this does not define you

This is not who you are

You know who you are

The monster is touched by Moana’s compassion and ability to see to its true core. It simmers down and lowers its forehead towards Moana’s. Moana then replaces the monster's heart and watches it become the beautiful Earth goddess who blesses everything with life.

I have watched this movie with my kids at least twenty times, yet I am still pierced by that scene. To me, it encapsulates the human condition. All of us have been wounded by life, some of us have been veritably destroyed by adversity and ill-treatment. Our pains, struggles, disappointments often turn us into hardened or disillusioned individuals. At the very least, they lead us to put up walls before others as an understandable form of self-protection. And when we decide to take a stand and look past this hurt in people, to try to connect with something deeper in them--the truth of what they are--it takes as much courage as Moana shows facing the lava monster.

It is not an exaggeration when I say this scene is so powerful to me that it has changed my approach to relationships.

Since watching this movie with my kids, I refer to this scene any time they are having a hard time. I tell my son, "you are acting out because you are hungry and tired (or embarrassed and hurt). This isn't who you really are. Let me help you get back to your true self."

I refer to this scene when I am having discussions with family members, reminding myself that their life experiences have created hard buildup (like plaque on arteries) that shape their perspectives and convictions. Like Te Ka, their views have been created by pain and they are arguing from a place of self-protection. So, I try to be like Moana and look past the lava monster (which immediately makes me want to put up arms and fight back...or run away) and look for their heart instead.

And I think about this when dealing with one particular family member whom I love with all my heart even though we have a particularly challenging relationship.

No one who knows about my relationship with this person blames me for occasionally pulling away and becoming severely disenchanted. This person rarely speaks the simple truth, choosing instead to fib, withhold or embellish. He/she (I need to keep this vague for obvious reasons) expects a lot from the people around him/her, but isn’t consistent in his/her affection, attention or consideration. He/she makes life choices that are so self-destructive and hurtful to others that none of us can agree with them. But I can’t stay away because at the end of the day, he/she is family, I love him/her, and I know the huge amount of good that resides deep within him/her. I also know pain and unhappiness is driving this behavior.

Since watching Moana, I have been making the effort to look at this person's heart instead of the outer layers. When he/she tells me obvious lies, I remember something within encourages this behavior as a form of self-protection. When he/she gives me attitude, I acknowledge my feelings (it feels like hives on the inside of my body and I desperately want to put up my own walls) and remember he/she is deeply wounded. And I try to always steer the conversation to places we can both actually enjoy. Sometimes it’s remembering our past, sometimes it’s talking about food, sometimes about my kids. Anything where we can find common ground. I think of Moana as I do this. Moana shines the light of the heart of Te Fiti to remind Te Ka of what she truly is. I aim to shine the love we all carry within as well as the past this person and I share together. Perhaps one day it will serve as a beacon that gives this person enough pause to be able to reach out to me and truly connect.

Is this relationship satisfying? Not exactly. But it feels so much better to feel softness instead of hardness in my heart. Also, I understand people can disappear without a warning. My sister died in a plane crash at the age of 35. My father died from lung cancer 30 days after his (second) diagnosis; he was supposed to have 6 months to live. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides reminded me that individuals may be fighting inner battles they could lose at any moment. So, I want to make sure that I constantly try to see through the lava monster for a chance to connect with the god/goddess inside.

Next time you are facing a lava monster intent on hurting you, or a situation that you feel could destroy you, think of Moana. Remember we have all been wounded in ways that make us feel as if our hearts have been stolen. But it is not who we truly are. Take a deep breath and see if you can muster the courage to stand tall and address the person or issue like Moana does Te Ka.

Here is the scene in Moana that I am referring to:

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