After reading The Velveteen Rabbit the other day, I started to think about what it means to be Real. The story describes Real as a coveted state of being, something all playthings wanted to become. Somehow the rabbit knew that to be Real was much preferred over being fake. He knew that with Real, came something special, but he didn’t know exactly what that something special was. He had heard about being Real from the Skin Horse and some of the other toys, but he didn’t know how to get there himself. The book tells the story about his journey to Real. Not the “Real” someone else wanted him to be, but his Real.
What does being Real mean, and how do we get ourselves there? The topic of “Real” is frequently tossed around; many say they value it, others say they crave it. Looking around we see evidence of both. We see and hear statements such as, “real fruit flavor, the real thing, real numbers, real time, real simple, real science, etc. We hear people say, “Be real with me” or “I like him; he’s so real” or even, “she’s the real deal.” Although this evidence hints at the importance of being Real it doesn’t tell us what it is or how to get there.
What is Real? According to Merriam-Webster.com Real is; actually existing or happening, not imaginary, not fake, false or artificial. Important and deserving to be regarded or treated in a serious way. Some similar words that come to mind are, genuine, authentic, honest, approachable, and what you see is what you get. Do you notice something here? I see a whole lot of “being” and really no “doing”. It doesn’t seem that we can “make” Real, or “do” Real. It seems that we have to “Be” Real.
To be Real we have to exist, that means we have to show up, not the mask, or image we want to portray; no imaginary, fake or artificial persona, but our bare bones, authentic self. It’s interesting to me that the definition includes, “important and deserving to be regarded or treated in a serious way.” This speaks to a universal human need and it seems that the only way we can truly get that need met is to be Real. Real isn’t about the doing…it’s about being; it’s about how we show up.
As the Skin Horse, in The Velveteen Rabbit says, being Real is a thing “that happens to you”. I believe Real is what happens to you when you allow yourself to be encountered by others as you are…not as you want others to see you. Real is showing up in your truest form, and allowing others to see that authentic version of you, warts and all.
In the story, the rabbit asked the Skin horse if being Real hurt. Answering honestly, the Skin Horse said, “Sometimes, but when you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
Yes, sometimes being real does hurt. It might hurt when others don’t understand our “Real”. Sometimes we are hurt by the assumptions or expectations others have of us. Sometimes we are hurt by the expectations or assumptions we have of others. Either way, when our “Real” bumps up against the “Real” of someone else, there is a possibility of misunderstanding, which can hurt. “But when you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.” I think the “not minding” part, is the ability to let the hurt go and move on.
Being Real definitely requires patience and understanding with ourselves as well as others. We need to be patient and understanding with ourselves while we maneuver around our blind spots, limitations and weak areas. We also need to be patient and understanding with others, as they might get frustrated or angry, when they encounter these same blind spots, limitations and weaknesses in us. Finally, we also need to be patient and understanding with others as they navigate their own perilous path to Real. Being real does hurt sometimes, but, when we are real, we don’t mind as much.
Continuing his conversation with the Rabbit, Skin Horse helps us understand why some individuals struggle with being Real when he says, “(real) doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or who have to be carefully kept.
It seems being Real is difficult for people who are fragile, rigid, or complicated. I think to be Real we need to find a strength that comes from knowing who we are. We need to know our unique combination of gifts and talents. When we are real we don’t proudly claim these gifts as our own creation. Instead, we understand that our creator put this unique package together for a specific purpose, and humbly accept our part in that purpose. Real is being patient, and approachable; a soft place for people to land. Being Real is being simple, not difficult to be around; knowing the universe doesn’t revolve around us.
As I share the last bit of this profound quote from our friend, Skin Horse, we see that being Real not only requires us to know who we are but it also requires that we know who we are not…. “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.”
Being Real is also knowing who we are not. It’s accepting that we all come with a bit of “shabbiness”. Being Real is realizing that we actually don’t know everything, and that we definitely can’t do everything. It’s admitting that we have limited physical and emotional energy. It’s knowing that we have blind spots, weaknesses, and frailty. Being Real is admitting, and accepting that we are merely human. Being real is claiming our “shabbiness”, and knowing it doesn’t matter. Because, when we’re real, we can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.