Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Velveteen Principles by Toni Raiten-D’Antonio

Raiten-D’Antonio, ToniThe Velveteen Principles: A Guide to Becoming Real: Hidden Wisdom from a Children’s Classic.  Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 2004.

In The Velveteen Principles, counselor Toni Raiten-D’Antonio draws lessons for living from the children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.  Raiten-D’Antonio found the lessons from this book to be helpful for her clients in living as real people rather than seeing themselves as objects.

The Velveteen Rabbit (you can skip this paragraph if you’ve read it) is the story of a cheap, stuffed bunny that wants to be real.  The rabbit has a rough time, especially when faced with comparisons to fancier toys that erode its confidence.  He is encouraged along the way by a toy horse that had already been made “real” by the love of a child.  The rabbit becomes a boy’s companion through a severe illness, and though it is a trial, the rabbit’s courage and love for the boy carries him through.  The boy loves him back and considers him real.  Even so, adults throw the rabbit out because they think it is riddled with disease.  A fairy rectifies the situation by make the rabbit a real, flesh-and-blood bunny.

Raiten-D’Antonio sees a parallel in the lives of people, who are encouraged by our culture to see themselves as objects.  Objects have manufactured perfection.  They are valued for how they fit an ideal.  Objectified people hide there flaws, obsessively follow fads, lose their uniqueness, become disconnected from themselves and others, and miss out on living.  It is easy to fall prey to objectification because our culture values and rewards its.

In contrast, real people are imperfect.  Their imperfections make them unique.  Reality isn’t simply a matter of accepting imperfections; it is about being perfectly yourself, a person with value because you are a person, with strengths and weakness, relationships, and a place in the world.  Reality is challenging.

A dozen principles of being real are described in the book.  Some are about the process of becoming real and some relate to what a real life is like.

The value carries through most of the principles is empathy.  We start with empathy for ourselves, acknowledging and accepting ourselves as we are rather than trying to become a perfect object.  This self-empathy isn’t about giving up or pretending everything is okay.  It’s about setting aside the illusions of the object-world and giving ourselves the grace and space to begin where we are.

Self-empathy gives us room of empathy for others.  Just as we stop trying to make ourselves into perfect objects, we show the same grace to others.  Love, honesty and ethics spring from empathy.

Real living has its own dangers and pains.  The truth can be uncomfortable, especially the truth about us, and letting go of object-ideals can be hard. However, the rewards or real living are a kind of contentment, peace, and inner wealth that can’t be achieved by having or being an object.

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