A. A. Milne’s books about Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends in the Hundred-Acre Wood have been delighting audiences worldwide for nearly a century, and there are countless little nuggets of joy and wisdom to be gleaned from their pages. Each character has its own distinct personality, and although they may be exaggerated caricatures, it’s more than likely that we know people who embody the strongest characteristics found in each of them.
Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and the rest of them all have very important lessons to share, if we but pay attention to them. Not just their words, mind… but the actions behind them as well.
Piglet: Everyone Appreciates Empathy and Kindness
Piglet had got up early that morning to pick himself a bunch of violets; and when he had picked them and put them in a pot in the middle of his house, it suddenly came over him that nobody had ever picked Eeyore a bunch of violets, and the more he thought of this, the more he thought how sad it was to be an Animal who had never had a bunch of violets picked for him.
This little piggy is one of the sweetest and most caring creatures in the literary world, and he always goes out of his way to ensure that those around him are appreciated. He’s very small and is often scared, and those attributes probably contribute to his overwhelming empathy. He has likely experienced a great deal of negative emotions in his little life, and as such he tries to lighten other people’s worlds whenever possible.
Kanga: Too Much Fussing can be Smothering
Kanga never takes her eye off Baby Roo, except when he’s safely buttoned up in her pocket.
Kanga, the only female character in the Pooh books, is a devoted mother whose entire world revolves around her little son, Roo. While her devotion is certainly admirable on many levels, it’s also a bit disturbing at times. She has no personality or interest other than that of “mother" – no character development beyond feeding, watching, and fussing over her kid.
In addition to having no discernible identity of her own, she does her child an enormous disservice with her obsessive attentions; in being totally fixated on keeping her kid safe and tending to his every need, she suffocates him. She doesn’t allow him any degree of autonomy to discover the world around him, even if that means getting into a little bit of danger once in a while.
Yes, the world can be scary at times and we want to keep our loved ones safe, but life is meant to be lived in spite of possible dangers.
Eeyore: There’s Always a Silver Lining to be Found
“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
Although this sweet little donkey is pretty much the poster child for chronic depression, he always seems to find some small bit of silver lining on even the darkest cloud.
When we’re mired in grey, it’s hard to focus on the fact that positive things even exist in our lives, let alone exist in abundance. Life can be really bloody hard at times, and awful situations can often rain down like hammer blows all at once. You might wake up dreadfully ill one morning, get fired when you try to call in sick to work, break your favorite mug when you try to make tea, and then have your partner break things off with you because they want to join a monastery in Tibet.
On days like that, it really feels like the best course of action would just be to curl up in a hole and never emerge… but then your pet looks at you with big, liquid eyes full of unconditional love (and a desire for treats), and you remember that you’re alive, and smart, and have a whole lot of opportunity to explore… and your hair isn’t on fire, and things aren’t quite so bad in that particular moment. There’s always hope and joy to be found; somehow Eeyore manages this despite his prevailing gloomy outlook.
Tigger: Appreciate Your Friends, but Don’t Bounce On Them
Tigger: [bounces on Piglet]Hello, Piglet! I’m Tigger!
Piglet: Oh, Tigger! You sc-c-c-cared me!
Tigger: Oh, shucks! That was just one of my little bounces!
Piglet: It was? Oh. Thank you, Tigger.
Tigger: Yeah, I’m saving my best bounce for Ole Long Ears!
Oh honey. It’s great that you’re enthusiastic and bouncy and OH LOOK – A PHEASANT, but it’s important to take care of your health and wellbeing. Super-intense confidence and a bubbly personality are great and all, but can also be indicative of instability… It’s great to be able to rely on your friends, but don’t bounce on them. Okay?
So Owl wrote…and this is what he wrote:
HIPY PAPY BTHETHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY
Pooh looked on admiringly.
“I’m just saying ‘A Happy Birthday’,” said Owl carelessly.
“It’s a nice long one,” said Pooh, very much impressed by it.
We all know someone who’s an insufferable know-it-all, and we also know how utterly tiresome they can be when they start in on tangents. Most of the people who get all grandiose about how important they are because of all the stuff they know really suffer from tremendously low self-esteem, which they try to cover up with an impressive wealth and breadth of knowledge. Being able to prattle on about a subject as though they were the world’s authority on it grants them a measure of self-worth… but can also alienate them rather fiercely.
When we spend time with friends, it’s very rare that we want to sit down to a lecture. Authenticity is cherished a great deal more than encyclopedic blathering, so if your general M.O. when feeling uncomfortable or anxious is to prattle on about late Mesopotamian poetry or the mating habits of a rare species of newt, take a moment to look around you and ask yourself whether doing so would draw people close to you, or put them into a coma. If you’ve just met some new people and are feeling anxious, it’s best to ask them questions about themselves instead of launching into a monologue. Find out what inspires them, what they love to read, what was the strangest food they’ve ever tried. Get to know them, and in turn they’ll want to get to know you. (The REAL you.)
Pooh Bear: Mindfulness Brings Peace and Joy
Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.
There’s a good reason why this silly old bear inspired the book The Tao of Pooh. Although he might seem like an absent-minded creature, Pooh’s insights about life, love, and existence are really quite profound. Far from being empty-headed, Pooh bear recognizes how important it is to live in the present moment, and to not allow the bothersome minutiae of daily life to disrupt his inner peace.
Whatever Pooh is doing, he totally engrosses himself in it; all that matters in the world is what he’s doing in that particular moment. If he’s cramming fistfuls of honey into his maw, all he’s doing is eating. If he’s gazing into the river waiting to see if his stick is the first to make it to the other side from beneath a bridge, then that’s what he’s doing in that particular moment. Past is passed, future hasn’t happened yet; ALL that exists is that heartbeat, that breath… and in that specific moment, Pooh bear is content. What a great example to live by.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.