This year has played host to several discoveries that prompt us to ponder what it means to be human. Is there really more than one kind of human being? Is everything evolutionary scientists call Homo human? Are there in our past any in-between species that were on their way to becoming human?
A Teachable Moment
Let's pause a moment to grab a helpful analogy from Margary Williams' The Velveteen Rabbit — an appropriate choice for this after-Christmas feature to close out 2015. In that 1922 classic children's book, the Velveteen Rabbit starts his transformational journey in the Boy's Christmas stocking. Soon, ignored and overshadowed by expensive mechanical toys with superior features, the fuzzy bunny begins to view his more primitive sawdust-stuffed design as "insignificant and commonplace."
"What is REAL?" he finally asks the Skin Horse. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
During a toy's fanciful life, Skin Horse explains, interaction with the stresses imposed by a child's play alters its external appearance. "Most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby," he says. Indeed, illustrating the universal nature of survival of the fittest, Skin Horse explains that toys that "break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept" don't make it. Toys that can't go the distance don't survive to make their transformation. But external wear-and-tear are visible manifestations of a child's love, and that child's love gradually changes the very nature of the toy, eventually making it "Real." Skin Horse prophetically informs Rabbit that "Real isn't how you are made. 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."