What the The Velveteen Rabbit Teaches Us About Storytelling

In 1922, Margery Williams published The Velveteen Rabbit. Perhaps this book sounds familiar due to its wide acclaim or, maybe, it infused your childhood dreams as a bedtime read. Either way, Williams’ message remains profound and salient today.

Lying on the floor of a child’s bedroom, the Velveteen Rabbit asks the wisest nursery toy, the Skin Horse, what it means to be Real:

“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 the 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… once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

Because storytelling is built into our biology, it plays a vital role in the process of becoming “Real.”

Occasionally, though, we find ourselves caught up in the belief that we must present a flawless exterior to the world. But when we are unwilling to be honest about the frayed edges of our own stories, we isolate ourselves from others.

Conversely, as we invite people into our stories and they welcome us into theirs, the world gains a little bit more color. Bones take on flesh and become “Real.” This kind of authenticity is one of the defining differences between statistics and stories.

Authentic storytelling connects society.

The day we stop telling, hearing, and sharing real stories about “Real” people is the day we fall flat into paper figures, incapable of connection or empathy. By peeling off our masks and bearing the unfiltered parts of ourselves, we breathe life into one another.

The key is preserving that genuineness and emotion as the story moves from storyteller (or, in this case, beneficiary) to donor.