We have met the enemy, and he is us.
– Pogo Possum
OU have probably heard about a rather interesting method they sometimes use when trying to catch a monkey for the zoo. It seems that trappers take a small cage out into the jungle. Inside the cage they place a bunch of bananas and then they close it, locking the bananas inside. Now a monkey coming along and spotting the bananas, will reach through the narrow rungs of the cage and grab a banana. But he can't get it out. And no matter how hard he tries – twisting his hand back and forth – he can't pull his hand through the rungs while hanging on to the banana. And even with the approaching trappers he won't let go of the banana. For the trappers, it's simply a matter then, of coming up and grabbing the monkey. Now if you were standing there in the jungle, watching all of this happen, and wanted to save the monkey, you might yell in exasperation, "Drop the Banana!"
In the same way, we sometimes hang on to our problems and attitudes – attitudes that cloud our perspective, attitudes that alter our actions, attitudes that sidetrack our best intentions – and won't let go of them, even when it would be in our best interest to do so.
Why is that? Why are we continually plagued by long outstanding problems? Why aren't they overcome or at least brought under control?
Could it quite possibly be that that is the way we want it? We can get so comfortable doing what we have always done that we don't want to overcome the inertia of continuing on as we are.
We don't want to drop the banana in our life because we really enjoy just doing what we have always done even if that behavior is not serving us well. There is a saying that "when you're in a hole, stop digging." Sometimes we just have to bring everything to a complete halt. Make an assessment of what is going on and make the appropriate correction. The first step in changing your behavior is to stop doing the destructive action that got you there in the first place. Self-examination is necessary for change. But it can be uncomfortable. Comfort is one of the most demotivating forces on earth. It stops us from growing.
Sometimes we say, "I tried but I just can't do it." When we do, we need to catch ourselves – bells should go off in our head, fireworks should burst in the sky, we should immediately go into red alert—because we're really just kidding ourselves.
|Do or do not. There is no try.
In fact, if we face reality, it's more likely, that it's not "we can't," or "we tried," it's that we really don't want to. We might want someone else to change. We might even fervently pray that they do so. But we don't really want to. We like things just they way they are. Trying is easier than doing. Doing takes discipline—consistent discipline.
I don't want the cheese, I just want to get out of the trap.
– Spanish Proverb
Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied.
– Pearl S. Buck
The problem is within. It's not our parents. It's not other people. It's not our circumstances. It's us.
Actually about 80% of our problems are of our own making. A successful person always says, "What is it in me that I need to change?" They're open to the fact that they're not perfect. They seek out constructive criticism.
A successful person will spend time on the 80%—the problems they can do something about—and an unsuccessful person will spend their time worrying about the 20% they really can't do anything about. It is easier to look at the 20%—other people—and suggest where they might change. But this leads only to frustration and stagnation.
A wise, old Middle Eastern mystic said this about himself. "I was a revolutionary when I was young, and all my prayer to God was: 'Lord, give me the energy to change the world.' As I approached middle age and realized that my life was half gone without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: 'Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me. Just my family and friends and I shall be satisfied.' Now that I am an old man and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: 'Lord, give me the grace to change myself.' If I had prayed this right from the start, I would not have wasted my life."
But we don't often want to work on the 80%. It's not fun. There's no apparent glory. It's hard work. There's too much inertia to overcome. They're habits. We've grown accustomed to our problems and so now we justify them. Someone once said, Adults are just children with better excuses. "Sure it might be a problem," we say, "but we can work around it" or "look what they do, so it's not that bad." Evoking what I call the principle of relative sin – I'm not so bad if they're worse.
Well, we don't have to be sick to get better. A full and satisfying life is not about getting by, it's about getting better. We must raise the bar on ourselves – set higher and higher standards. We need to develop the habit of doing the things we already know to do and to stop doing the things we know we shouldn't.
So let's consider then, the long outstanding problems that we have, and ask ourselves if it is really that we don't want to make the necessary changes we need to make. What are we hanging on to that we would best be rid of? What private agendas are we hanging on to? How can we get out of our own way so that we can accomplish in our lives that which we desire?
You can't answer these questions without humility. It takes a degree of humility to answer these questions, if the answers are to be productive at all. Otherwise, it's easy to look through the distortions that make us look and feel better and the torturous logic that betrays us.
It is not always easy to struggle through a difficult situation or to overcome our own moral sluggishness.
We can change ourselves and our attitudes and our effect on other people. We can change opinions. We can change direction. Only the discipline and our decision to use it, is missing. We have the chance, the capacity, and the answers. All of the elements are there. We just have to make the decision.
And failing to do this, doesn't just harm us individually. It hurts all of us. Because one person doesn't make a symphony orchestra. One person doesn't make a country. One person doesn't make a family. It take all of us. It takes action on the part of all of us to build a cohesive dynamic community and better world to live in. It isn't up to someone else or some other power. It is our responsibility.
We need to make demands on ourselves then, for all of us.
As we look at the problems in our own lives, we need to think about that monkey in the jungle. If we were to step back and look at ourselves struggling through life – ensnared by our problems – we might just shake our heads and ask, "Why don't I just drop the banana!"
Foundations Magazine: Table of Contents