We were walking home from dinner with some friends last night and somehow got distracted by Elizabeth’s Bookshop on Pitt St. That place never seems to close. Right out the front they were selling some cheap second-hand copies of The Velveteen Rabbit – a very special little children’s story. There is a passage in the book – a discussion between Rabbit and Skin Horse over the nature of reality – which is a priceless gem of philosophical ontology.
All our best thinking happens in stories.
Sadly, The Velveteen Rabbit is also a particular favourite of Self-Help Gurus trying to give their readers a little feel-good buzz so that the spoonful of pure, distilled, twollop will go down easier. I was googling The Velveteen Rabbit this morning and came across Jeff’s Life Coach Blog. Jeff helpfully outlines 12 principles for Being Real, which are an enumerated demonstration of complete failure to understand the story, followed by this from the conclusion
“The story of the Velveteen Rabbit is a terrific example of why we should all live an authentic life, based on our own self worth.”
No, Jeff. The Rabbit became REAL because the Boy loved him, not because of his own self-worth. What made the Rabbit real was the relationship of grace in which he was placed through no activity or value of his own. He was loved. That’s the only kind of REAL that lasts for always.
I refuse to link to Jeff’s Blog because he is a turkey.
For your reading pleasure, here’s the famous excerpt from the Velveteen Rabbit:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”