What the river knows
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
… And eventually they came to a sunny clearing in the centre of the forest and Pooh sat down and closed his eyes. There was something oddly familiar about the place, but he wasn’t sure what. Maybe it was just that it had been so long since he had felt warmth? But no, it was more than that, there was a deeper reason that he wanted to smile.
That puzzled him. Why was it exactly that he wanted to smile? That’s the tricky thing about warm days at the end of winter, they can either make you thankful that winter’s almost over or they can make you impatient for a summer that feels like it will never come …
If I was attempting to explain the concept of happiness to a child, the exemplar above is definitely the one I would choose. For clarification, it is not a quote from A.A. Milne, it is an extrapolation of the sort of thing I am sure he would have penned on the matter if it had occurred to him that happiness needed to be explained – which it didn’t.
The more interesting thing to consider is why it didn’t.
While many people are very familiar with the antics of Milne’s beloved roly-poly bear and the other inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, few people realise that before he became an iconic children’s writer Milne served as an officer in WWI and wrote propaganda articles for MI7 after being significantly injured at the battle of the Somme.
Having witnessed the violence and the atrocities of war first-hand, the whimsical characters that populate his stories and their peaceful surroundings stand in stark contrast to the reality of his former life.
There is much to be learnt from this decision, because although he might have easily dwelled upon the horrors of his experience – as many former warriors do, – he intentionally chose to envisage a different sort of reality and refined his vision until he found a way to share it with all of us.
The characters in the world of Winnie the Pooh have nothing but peace and time, and their biggest concern is what’s for lunch. They live simple lives and value friendship above any sort of material possession.
Yes, they make poor decisions now and again and get themselves into difficulty when they fail to think about the consequences of their actions, but they also help each other out when the going gets tough and learn from one another.
In short, they are happy.
And that is perhaps Milne’s greatest gift to all of us. For in his stories he shows us a childhood world where everyone can be happy and invites us to revisit this place as often as we wish – no matter how old we grow – under the acceptable pretext of “reading to children”.
Is Winnie the Pooh just a trivial children’s story? On the most superficial level perhaps it is, but it also contains a deeper wisdom that endures to this day.
Robin Trimingham is the chief operating officer of The Olderhood Group Ltd and a virtual presenter, journalist, podcaster and thought leader in the fields of life transition and change management. Connect with Robin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/olderhoodgroup1/ or firstname.lastname@example.org