By Anya Lawrence, The University of Birmingham
Enjoyed by readers across the world, A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh has come to represent different things to so many people; some find it a captivating children’s story, some feel it explores complex mental health themes; whilst others consider it an allegory of Taoism. Yet the stories of Pooh can also provide insights on how people with disabilities and long-term health conditions can be enabled and empowered through the right support.
Although naïve and reckless at times, Pooh is a calmly confident, outgoing and friendly individual, who enjoys socialising with his fellow inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood and pursuing various adventures (which invariably involve honey).
Piglet on the other hand, could be considered quite a vulnerable individual; he is very timid, physically small and experiences great anxiety and fear at the seemingly mundane. But these characteristics don’t mean that Piglet is ‘lesser’ than his peers in any way; in fact Piglet is quietly very intelligent and an extremely capable problem-solver. It’s just that Piglet needs a little encouragement and a helping hand at times; in other words he needs individualised support.
This is where Pooh comes in. In many of the stories, Pooh can be seen to provide a meet-and-greet service; he collects Piglet from his home so that Piglet has social support from the outset. Furthermore, whilst they explore and undertake various hair-brained schemes and escapades in the Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh gives further emotional and physical support to Piglet; from helping Piglet along on windy days so that he doesn’t get blown away to building Piglet’s confidence and self-belief so that he can realise his inner bravery and courage and do ‘very grand things’ indeed.
This support empowers Piglet to overcome his fears of leaving his safe space at home and his propensity to overthink situations. It also enables Piglet to be included in and enjoy meaningful experiences in the Hundred Acre Wood, which he may have otherwise missed out on due to his anxiety.
But how do these stories translate to real-life scenarios? Well, if you consider the Hundred Acre Wood to be analogous to the workplace, or the field in the context of physical science disciplines like Geoscience, then you can draw parallels between Winnie the Pooh and how people with disabilities or long-term illnesses can be supported to achieve their goals and aims.
As well as the assistance outlined above, Winnie the Pooh highlights the importance of clear and open communication; by inviting Piglet’s opinions and including him in every conversation, Pooh hears and listens to Piglet’s thoughts, ideas and feelings and is therefore better able to respond to his concerns as they arise.
Pooh also shows that the experience and insight of the support worker is key to ensuring that the support given to a disabled person is effective. As Pooh is a resident of the Hundred Acre Wood himself, he has a good understanding of the both the opportunities and challenges that this environment presents. In this way, Piglet is given support from someone whom he knows well, with subject-specific experience rather than from an external support worker who doesn’t have any experience of Piglet’s situation.
So next time you come across (arguably) the most famous fictional bear, try to see beyond the honey, hums and heffalumps because if you delve a bit deeper you find that Winnie-the-Pooh provides a lot of food for thought on how to provide meaningful support.