The Velveteen Rabbit . . . a retelling

(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)


“What is a LEADER?” 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?”

“A LEADER isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. It’s realizing that every experience develops some latent force within you.1 You begin to understand that vision is the art of seeing the invisible2 so that when you want to build a wagon, you don’t gather the other toys to collect wood or assign them tasks, but rather you teach them to long for ways to traverse the endless immensity of the backyard.3 Then you become a LEADER.”

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“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are a LEADER you don’t mind being hurt. Leaders don’t inflict pain. They bear pain.” 4

“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. And while talent will get most of the attention, it is… a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece… by thought, choice, courage, and determination.5 Generally, by the time you are a LEADER, 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 LEADER, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious … these will be things you think about.” 6

“I suppose you are real LEADER?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The Boy’s Uncle taught me that real LEADERS never, for the sake of peace and quiet, deny their own experience or convictions,” 7 he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are a Real LEADER you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always. Because you know that everything can be taken from you but one thing: the last freedom… to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 8

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic happened to him. He longed to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him. It would take him time to learn how many cares disppear when you decide not to be something, but to be someone.9


hoping that Margery Williams wouldn’t mind my re-telling of her most excellent story (and one of my favorites), The Velveteen Rabbit. The wonderful illustration is by William Nicholson.

Further, I  hope those below don’t mind my fitting their quotes into this story…

1 John R. Miller

2 Jonathan Swift

3 Antoine de Saint-Exupery

4 Max DePree

5 John Luther

6 Philippians 4:8

7 Dag Hammarskjold

8 Victor Frankl

9 Coco Chanel


“Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills — against misery, against ignorance, or injustice and violence. Yet many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and 32 year old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal. ‘Give me a place to stand,’ said Archimedes, ‘and I will move the world.’ These men (and women) moved the world, and so can we all.”

Robert F. Kennedy


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    • pfiore8 on December 19, 2008 at 09:31

    i originally posted this last year as a writing in the raw.  i thought it might be nice to post it again, for the season. and dedicated to all of us who believe we can make the world a better place. like pico.

    • RiaD on December 19, 2008 at 14:29

    of my favorite essays of all time.

    thanks for re-posting it!


    ps~i always wanted to be an elephalant!

  1. to my horse.  He is after all far bigger than me.

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