I bet you haven’t learned anything from Winnie the Pooh for a while. I hadn’t either, until I found myself graduating from high school. In true bibliophile clan fashion, my father honored this milestone by giving me a book he’d read and he felt I would like. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Taoism is an Eastern belief system, sort a religion that can just as easily be something more akin to a philosophy. Since one of the most commonly excepted wisdoms of the Tao is that, if you think you can explain through writing or speech, then its not the true Tao, it’s sort of a slippery concept to try and figure out. Compound that with the fact that it’s an Eastern belief system so there’s not a necessarily a whole lot of cultural familiarity with the idea for Western audiences, and the idea of understanding Taoist lifestyle seems like unraveling an exotic cosmic riddle. It’s definitely a fascinating belief system though, and one I enjoyed learning about. As luck would have it though, Winnie the Pooh is actually a startlingly good guide and even role model for studying Taoism.
To briefly go over Hoff’s ideas, Winnie the Pooh is actually living the perfect Taoist lifestyle. He never worries, nor strives to much for power or knowledge. He just listens to what the world is telling him and goes with the flow, or to the nearest honey pot. Taoism is very much about the need for humans to stop complicating their lives by worrying or allowing contrived systems of ideals to control their lives. Acceptance, the “natural order” of things, and knowing how and when to be happy with things as they are, are all key concepts of the Tao. So, yeah a sort of child of nature naivety would be a highly prized mindset among Taoists, and Winnie the Pooh certainly has that nailed.
Hoff also talks about how Pooh bear’s friends, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Eeyore, Tigger, etc. are excellent representations of how people let their flaws distract themselves from happiness. Piglet’s always letting his own fears get in the way, (yeah, I had to check several times and Piglet is apparently definitely a guy,) Owls always trying to prove how smart he is, Eeyore’s always wallowing in negativity, Rabbit’s a control freak, and Tigger is one letter away from being a highly offensive racial epithet. Really. That’s what it says. Read it and prove me wrong. Hoff definitely puts it a bit more eloquently than that, but basically using those friendly old story book characters as navigational points through the realm of Taoism was his key trope. It paid off big time, and plenty people other than my dad feel this text is a great way to introduce people to Taoism.
I found the ideology a helpful one. Especially with the recent finals and all, I found firm solace in remembering that most of the ten to twenty page papers I was plowing through did not have to forever define my personal happiness. Sometimes not giving a crap about my roommate’s shenanigans can leave me happier than getting worked up about them and wondering why I agreed to bunk beds. Pooh bear and all the rest made the whole thing sound interesting enough that I read into it a bit more after that, and I’m glad I did.
Draws of an intriguing ancient philosophy aside, though, I found the presence of Pooh bear is what added something truly unique to the experience of learning a completely new ideology. I found his presence oddly comforting, and it reminded me of being a child, in a weirder way than simple nostalgia. Childhood characters and heroes, didn’t they used do this sort of thing all the time? I mean, explain the world in ways that made it less scary and easier to understand for lil’ you? I mean, the alphabet isn’t as cosmically unknowable or vast a concept as Taoism by any accounts, but don’t tell me the concept doesn’t ring true. It’s actually a very sweet idea, to bring Pooh and his friends back again so they can teach you the important things about life and friendship. Just because we may be grown ups, doesn’t mean the characters from our childhood don’t have things left to teach us.
I found the sort of sequel, the Te of Piglet, to be rather disappointing but I can solidly recommend this book for anyone looking to learn something new, reconnect with their childhood, or simplify their life.