Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Learning from Pooh

Maria Konnikova illustrates some of "What Grown-Ups Can Learn From Kids' Books," with The Little Prince, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and Winnie-the-Pooh. From her comments on Pooh:
...[T]he Winnie-the-Pooh stories offer astute character studies of some of society's most recognizable personality types.

Who hasn't met an Eeyore, the endless worrywart and eternal pessimist, who believes that the grass is the same dull brown no matter what side you're on? Eeyore is the one who, in response to Pooh's "how are you," offers a "not very how." And just contrast his and Pooh's approach to the Mystery of the Missing Tail. "You must have left it somewhere," says Pooh simply. "Somebody must have taken it," counters Eeyore. Eeyore is the sardonic one. And we shan't blame him if it rains.

And what group doesn't have a Rabbit, the doer and planner, the busybody who needs to ensure that everyone is doing just what they're supposed to be, when and how they are supposed to be doing it? Rabbit, the ever-practical. ....

There's Owl, the pompous scholar and aspiring intellectual, who is so much hot air behind his reputed ability to spell TUESDAY. Doubtless you've met him at a party or a conference, sometimes at the front of a classroom. Owl hides behind Big Words ("Can you read, Pooh?" he asks anxiously before agreeing to write a message for Eeyore's birthday) and manages to get Rabbit—the one who actually can read and write—to consult him, and not the other way around. ....

There's Piglet, the small animal who doesn't like to commit to anything without being fully certain of its safety and who always has something else to attend to when the danger reaches a certain threshold—but who can rise to the occasion when occasion demands (case in point: the day Owl's house falls down.) ....

And, of course, there is Pooh himself, who lives as in the moment as possible. The clock in his house is stopped perpetually at Luncheon Time—and there's nothing that can't be resolved with a little smackerel of something (preferably honey). But though Pooh sees himself as a bear of little brain, there's nothing little-brained about him. Recall what happens on the Expotition to find the North Pole when baby Roo falls into the river. While Piglet jumps up and down, Kanga runs beside the stream to ask Roo if he's all right, Owl explains what to do in a Sudden and Temporary Immersion, Eeyore puts his tail into the pool where Roo fell in long after Roo has gone downstream, and Rabbit authoritatively runs around and Organizes Everyone, Pooh is the only one who actually does something useful: He gets a stick, stands down-current from Roo, and helps Roo grab the stick when the current brings him to it. The essence of each character, revealed—as always with our true essence—in the height of emergency.

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," Piglet asks him as their adventures near an end, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" Pooh answers. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" responds Piglet.

Pooh thinks it over. "It's the same thing," he says. And as adults, we can at last appreciate just how right he is. It may seem silly to waste your time on books for children. But are we really wasting it—or using it to much better advantage? It's like the Red Queen tells Alice, "You may call it 'nonsense' if you like, but I've heard nonsense compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary." [more]