Knuffle Bunny, Worlds Expanding, and the Danger of the Single Story

If you have young children, know young children, or have ever been in the children’s section of a bookstore, it’s likely that you are familiar with the books of Mo Willems. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus or Elephant and Piggie are basically household names. When my boys were young, they were obsessed with the Knuffle Bunny books. You might be familiar with them, but if you aren’t, they center on a character named Trixie (based on Mo’s daughter in real life) and her beloved green stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. The second book in this sweeping trilogy is called Knuffle Bunny Too, and it’s been on my mind this week.

In Knuffle Bunny Too, Trixie’s world is about to expand – she’s going to school for the first time. But when she brings her beloved Knuffle Bunny to school, she learns that he’s not the only Knuffle Bunny in the world. A fight ensues, a mix-up occurs, and a middle of the night rendezvous saves the day.

I pulled this book off the shelf as a mentor text for something I’m working on, but when I reread it, I saw this metaphor for something we are experiencing collectively on so many levels in this country. This week, our newsfeeds have been full of women (and some men) sharing their experiences with sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the smaller, insidious ways women walk through the world in de-escalation mode daily. In my small corner of the world, most of the conversation has been productive, but I’ve also seen a number of posts derailed by people chiming in to negate someone’s personal experience. These statements, in short, say “That’s not my experience, so therefore it’s not reality.” And this made me think of Trixie.

Trixie, like most young children, started off with a small world – her immediate family. Her world, like most children’s, grows as she gets older. It begins to encompass neighbors, friends, perhaps church, then school. As she grows older (spoiler alert!) it will even encompass foreign travel. This isn’t exactly revelatory stuff here – all our worlds expand as we age.

But what I’m seeing right now, what I’m struggling with, is how many of us seem stuck in a childlike mindset, unable to accept something as real because it hasn’t entered our personal world yet. Trixie assumed her Knuffle Bunny was the only one in the world because she hadn’t seen another one, but when her world expanded, she was able to accept that it did, in fact, exist. But so many of us don’t want to see the other Knuffle Bunny. When someone says, let me share my experience with you, if it doesn’t match what we have already experienced ourselves, we are rejecting it as fake. Instead of accepting that perhaps our own reality is limited, and being open to listening, we’d rather maintain our bubble.

From a psychological perspective, this is the height of narcissism. The insistence that the world’s objective reality matches our small existence couldn’t be more self-centered. And while it’s natural for young, growing children to have a self-centered view of the world until they go through the stages of development that expand their thinking, it’s not okay behavior for adults. It’s harmful, it’s shallow thinking, it displays a desire to remain ignorant, it lacks empathy and imagination.

I know we can do better. We can be better listeners. We can take baby steps in this direction by resisting the urge to insert ourselves into someone else’s narrative. If a friend tells a personal story online, and we can simply listen without responding. If the story doesn’t match our own experiences in the world, instead of writing it off as false, perhaps we can try expanding our worldview to include it as part of a bigger story.

I’m going to leave you with this TED Talk that I share at least once a year because I believe it is that important. I believe in the power of story to connect us, but we have to be willing to listen.

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