Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Playing Dead?

A funny thing happened on my way to take a bath the other day.  I was about to fill my tub when I noticed a little bug laying on the bottom.  When I reached down to pick it up, the bug plopped over on it's back and played dead.  I've seen "roley poley" bugs curl up and play dead, but this I had never seen.  His tactic did not save him, however, as he got flushed away in spite of his survival strategy. 

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_qPxM1QNCFhE/TLuCoNPM4uI/AAAAAAAAARg/KD9TiWHz_xw/s1600/mossy4.jpgLater that night, I was walking my dog, Smudge.  I noticed him sniffing and starting to paw at something in the dimly lit mulch.  At first, it just looked like a blob of brown.  Upon a closer look, I was surprised to see a frog, lying on his back, legs spread wide open, playing dead.  Again, this was something I had never seen before.  As I gently tugged Smudge away from the cunning amphibian, he flopped back over onto his belly and hopped away to safety. 

What were the chances that twice in one day I would see two critters play dead when they sensed they were somehow being challenged or threatened?  I know that some animals do this, but I'd never seen it nor expected to see it twice in just a few hours.

After I saw the frog fake his own demise in an attempt to avoid confrontation, I started thinking about my own methods of dealing with the "threat" of attack or discomfort.  It made me realize that, while I frequently deal with the things life throws at me, there are certain times when I would just as soon roll over, play dead, and hope the threat would just pass me by.

Unfortunately, that tactic generally does not solve the problem.  Like the bug now in the depths of the sewer system, curling up and playing dead in an attempt to hide away from the world, usually ends up with me feeling worse off than I started and trying to keep afloat.  I guarantee you, had that bug tried to talk it's way through the predicament, he would be alive today (and probably traveling the world with me making me rich).  Had he shown me some life and a little oomph maybe he would have ended up outside rather than down the drain...he was, after all, a harmless bug. 

Rarely do life's problems just go away on their own.  Rarely do the situations that somehow "threaten" my ideal life just vanish by my hanging low and under the radar.  Most often, they require some attention, problem solving, thoughtful consideration, and action.  Sometimes Usually, they require more energy than I think I have, but that I must somehow muster.  And, yet, in the end, when the problem has been successfully addressed, the energy put in is usually well worth it.  Thoughtfully working through the situation - whatever it may be - is nearly always more freeing and fulfilling than rolling over and playing dead.

On the other side of the coin, there are the infrequent times that I respond to a threat with arms swingin', ready for a take down!  (I know that may have evoked just a few giggles or shocked inhalations as most have never ever seen that side of me.)  While there may be, or at least seem to be, times when a fight is "necessary" (usually if it involves a threat to my children, my family, or underdogs in general), most times this fight back response is as unsuccessful as the lay-over-and-play-dead response.  Fighting in response to threat is often a visceral reaction, not a planned out or thoughtful reaction.  While I may be able to throw a mean hook (figurative or literal) in a moment of threatened frenzy, there are only certain moments when this is a useful and productive response.  Unfortunately, sometimes when the fighter in me shows up, it can bring out the ugly in me.  True.  And, ugly is not a good look on me. 

I learned a bit about this struggle between fight or flight in response to threat when we lived in British Columbia (in Vancouver and Parksville).  British Columbia is inhabited (in different areas) by a variety of bears and by cougars.  In fact, Vancouver Island (where Parksville is located) "boasts" the highest concentration of cougars in the world.  Shortly after we first moved to B.C., we learned that there are different ways to respond to each of these animals should you encounter them.  If I recall correctly (feel free to correct me if I am wrong), if you encounter a cougar or a black bear, you first make yourself look as large as you can - standing tall, putting small children up on your shoulder, waving your arms - and back away calmly.  If however, you are still attacked, you fight like crazy because your life depends on it and you may be able to scare or battle the animal off.  Yet, if you encounter a brown bear or grizzly bear and are under attack, you drop to the ground, curl up in a ball and play dead - protecting your head with your hands as much as possible.  Hopefully, the bear gives up and walks away.  

The funny thing about the BC "rules" for engaging wildlife attacks is that I often wondered whether I would remember which response goes with which threat.  What if I play dead when I should fight?  What if I forget to "look large" and instead run away looking more like a mouse teasing a cat?  What would the outcome be if I respond in a way that is not prescribed?

In life, our responses to different threats are rarely prescribed.  The "rules of engagement" are not clear based on the attack we feel.  We can't filter through scenarios and choose the best reaction, wondering if we remembered the right plan.  However, my personal history has proven that - whether I feel like I want to curl up and play dead or come out swinging - when I thoughtfully consider my options, take time to problem solve, strive for integrity, remember the Word, and pray, I am far more likely to have a positive outcome and survive the threat.  Fortunately, there are few times in life when I am faced with a grizzly sized problem.  Rarely, do I have a life or death cougar-like confrontation before me.  And, hopefully, the next time I sense a threat to life as I know it, I will neither curl up and play dead nor fight with tooth and nail.  Neither one sounds very fun or profitable.  And, surely, neither one brings out the best (or beauty) within me.

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