Being Real

Tonight we sat around the kitchen table and took turns reading The Velveteen Rabbit.  Most of us have probably heard or seen the story at some point; in it’s simplest form it is a story about a stuffed rabbit and his journey to become real.  If you have not read it I recommend doing so immediately; it’s not terribly long.

It is long enough that reading it all the way through with a 2 year old, a 6 year old, and an 8 year old is a lesson in patience.  It made me think of how differently people see things at different stages in their lives.  At 2 it’s an annoyance, because there are more interesting things to do than listen to grown ups read a long boring story.  At 6 and 8 it’s a bit boring, but the parts about the live rabbits, the burning of the toys, and the fairy are fun and make them perk up.

If they read it again, and then again as they grow older, I imagine it would take on new meanings for them as they compare it to their own life experience, as they experience how it feels when other children snub them, when they feel inadequate and the people around them act like they are better than them or if they ever feel the sting of racism.  When they first understand what real love is the story will strike a different chord, and when they come to feel that youth is leaving them, they begin to lose their hair and their bellies have grown softer than they would like, it will bring a tear to their eye.  When they share the story with their own children as their children snicker and fidget, wishing they were somewhere else playing with toys, I imagine they will feel the love and sadness that I felt as I shared the story with them tonight.

It makes me think of how we connect with jurors, or any person for that matter – people hear everything that we say through the filter of their own experience.  How much they listen to and care about what we are saying depends in large part on how much they can relate to what we are saying.  If we are talking about something they have seen, or felt, or experienced, it will strike a chord; they will pay attention and they will care about the outcome.  If we are telling a jury about a human story that they can relate to, they will listen more, and care more, than they will if we are prattling on about a legal case and bits of evidence.

The most important things that we learn in our lives come with us into the courtroom – the lesson for trial practice is that of connecting with the people around us.  Being genuine, being Real, in a courtroom should be the easiest thing in the world, but it can be difficult.  Just being myself, without any bells or whistles, without putting on a show, without trying to copy some other lawyer who is more successful, being vulnerable and not trying to hide behind flowery language, exaggerations, or fake smiles, as I stand in front of a jury or a judge, may be the most important lesson that I can take me with me into the courtroom.

 “What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. 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.”



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