A Familiar Story
The troubled man found himself walking once again on the path he’d walked before, the path to the place where the wise man lived, in a small old house by the lake.
As he walked he thought of the advice the wise man had given him the last time he was here, when he’d asked for help with his troubles. When you are stuck in hot water, the wise man had said, do not become soft and fall apart like the carrot, and do not become hard and lifeless like the egg. Be like tea, and change the water.
Think of the adversities you now face, the wise man had asked the troubled man last time, as the troubled man turned to walk out the door, and if you could have avoided them in any way before it was too late. If you come to realize that you could have avoided your troubles, think about why you allowed yourself to come this far down the road you are on. Then come back and see me.
The troubled man reached the threshold to the wise man’s house, and knocked. The wise man opened the door and looked at him. “You’ve thought about my questions,” he said.
“I have,” the troubled man said. “I have, and I continue to. But thinking in this way—stewing on all that’s wrong and what brought me here—doesn’t help me. It seems I’m only adding insult to injury, and feeling worse. I listened to your advice about being like the tea leaves, and it helped me with some of my troubles. But in other areas, something just doesn’t feel right. I’ve given all I can, and it isn’t changing for the better. It only seems to be wearing me down.”
“Come in,” said the wise man. “Last time you came to see me, I said I’d share another story the next time you visited. And that is what we will do.”
The wise man handed the troubled man two buckets. “Take these down to the lake,” he said. “Fill the first one with water. In the second, bring back a frog.”
The troubled man stared at him. “Seriously?” he asked.
The wise man looked back at him.
“You believe you don’t have time to be searching for something you might not find,” the wise man said. “But even if you do not find what you are looking for, it will give you time to think, and walk, and get fresh air, and look at the water, and see how the sky is reflected in its surface when it is calm. And getting close to the ground will give you some time to observe and appreciate all that’s going on there. Don’t worry, though…you will find what you are looking for. There are frogs all around this area. You can hear them in the evening. As the world quiets down, they begin to sing.”
So the troubled man took the two pails, and returned with freshwater in one pail, and an unhappy frog in another. The wise man let the troubled man in, and the two men went to the kitchen, where they had sat during their last visit. The wise man poured the lake water into two pots. The first pot he placed over the fire. The second pot he kept close to them, on the counter. He set the frog into the pot on the counter. The frog climbed up to the edge of the pot, and held on.
The First Lesson from the Frog
They sat and talked until the water in the pot over the fire began to boil.
“What would happen if I dropped this frog into the boiling pot of water over the fire?” the wise man asked.
“I imagine you would kill the frog,” the troubled man answered, “but I’d rather you didn’t do that.”
The wise man gestured toward the pot with the frog nestled in it. “And what if I put this pot over the fire?”
“You’d probably kill the frog that way, too,” the troubled man said.
“Are you certain?” the wise man asked.
Suddenly the troubled man remembered something he had heard not so long ago. “Oh, wait—I’ve heard of this,” he said. “If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will quickly jump out to save itself. But if you put the frog into a cool pot of water and heat it slowly, the frog will stay put, and allow itself to be killed. It will sit there while you cook it—it won’t recognize the threat until it is too late. You aren’t going to do that, though, are you? You don’t need to do that. I get the idea.”
“That is the story,” the wise man said. “And like so many stories it is both true and false—or rather, fictional. Scientifically speaking it is false.
“Experiments have actually shown the opposite,” he explained. “If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will probably kill him—he will not jump out in time. And if you put a frog into a pot of cool water and heat it slowly, the frog will jump out as soon as the water becomes uncomfortable, if not as soon as you set down the pot. So, no, I am not going to put this frog over the fire.
“Yet the story is also fundamentally true. People tell and retell this story because it holds in it a real truth, when it comes to the troubles we face.
“A frog may not have the ability to jump out of a pot of boiling water,” the wise man continued, “but human beings are able to recognize a danger once it is significant enough. Once we are faced with a great change, we are able to recognize it as the danger or trouble it is, and we pull away, exit, quit, or change direction—quickly. And we don’t look back. We are glad to have escaped.
“But if we are exposed to danger slowly, in small incremental changes, many of us will sit and take it, and allow it to slowly destroy us. We do not recognize the damage being done until it is too late. We may have had the chance and opportunity to jump out or otherwise escape several or hundreds of times, but we sit and allow the situation to overcome us.”
The troubled man thought about his situation, and how many warnings he’d had, how his problems had built up over time, and how many times he’d thought of doing something, but had decided to stay where he was.
“Now I want you to close your eyes and imagine that I have set this frog in the pot, and placed the pot over the fire,” the wise man continued, “Imagine that the story is true, and that the frog remains in the pot as it warms.”
The troubled man did as he was asked, and closed his eyes, seeing the frog floating there with his head above the water.
“Let me ask you something,” the wise main said. “What do you imagine it is like for the frog in the pot, as it first starts to warm?”
The troubled man open his eyes and stared blankly.
“Do you imagine the frog was terribly uncomfortable in the beginning?” the wise man asked.”Was it uncomfortable as the water went from cold to cool, and from cool to lukewarm?”
“No, I imagine it felt okay,” the troubled man said, “maybe even felt good, like an improvement.”
“It might have actually been an improvement,” the wise man replied, “A little warmth is helpful when you are cold-blooded. But a little more heat is not always better, once you are warm enough.
“And this is where an imaginary frog in trouble can be likened to our own troubles,” the wise man continued. “We tend to believe that if a little of something is good, more of it must necessarily be better. But there comes a time when more of that same thing becomes damaging, or even detrimental. Any suggestion that this might be the case is often met with scorn, or arguments pointing back to a time when the situation was worse, in the beginning. These arguments may come from others, or they may come from your own mind. It was so uncomfortably cold before the heat, these voices will say. Remember how much better it was to feel a little warmer? Of course it will be better to be warmer still.
The troubled man looked at the floor. He thought of some of the changes he’d been contemplating, and how those voices had steered him away—his own thoughts, and the comments of others around him. And he thought about discussions of greater changes that were needed in the world, and how often these were met with these same arguments, these same voices.
“But there comes a point with just about everything where enough is enough,” the wise man continued, “and much more than enough can be worse than none at all.”
∞ ∞ ∞
The Second Lesson from the Frog
“Now,” said the wise man. “Imagine the frog floating there in his own reflection as the water gets hotter and hotter, and is finally hot enough to paralyze him. Now he knows for sure that it isn’t right, but he has no way out. And now imagine him as the heat finally overcomes him, and he dies in the pot where we put him.”
The troubled man did what he was asked.
The wise man waited. “Do you have it in your mind?”
The troubled man said yes, and opened his eyes.
“Now let me ask you something,” said the wise man. “What killed the frog?”
The troubled man furrowed his brow a little, a bit annoyed at the inanity of the question. “The boiling water,” he said.
The wise man looked at him. “And what led to that?”
“The fire under the pot?” the troubled man said.
“Yes,” said the wise man, “but fire can be found all over, and causes many pots to boil, while no frogs are killed. This frog happened to be in this pot while the water boiled.”
“Well, yes,” said the troubled man, “…so, then…you killed the frog by putting him in the pot.”
“Did I?” asked the wise man. “I placed him in a pot of cool, comfortable water.”
The troubled man glared at the wise man, surprised at the anger rising up in him in response to the imaginary death of a frog he didn’t know existed an hour before. “If not the boiling water, or the fire, or you, then what?”
“Not so much what as who,” the wise man replied.
Now the troubled man was livid. “What are you saying,” he asked, “that I’m to blame because I went to get him? Or in some philosophical way because I imagined his death?”
The wise man looked at him for a moment, his face expressionless. “Was the frog still alive when you brought him to me? Was he still alive when I placed him in the pot?”
The troubled man said yes.
“How many changes in temperature took place between the moment when I placed him in the pot and when he died?” the wise man asked.
The troubled man stared back and shook his head slightly. “Many?”
“And how many chances did the frog have to jump,” the wise man continued, “before it was too late?”
“Many,” the troubled man replied.
“And how many of those chances did he take?”
The troubled man looked over at the frog, who at some point had dropped into the pot, and was now floating with just his head above the water. “None,” he said.
“Who or what killed the frog?” the wise man asked again. “Or if you’d prefer, what caused the frog to die?”
The troubled man looked again at the pot with the frog sitting there, floating in his own reflection. He looked for a long while. “The frog,” he said finally.
“The frog,” the wise man repeated. “The frog, in every moment he decided not to jump, when he still had a chance to live.”
∞ ∞ ∞
The Third Lesson from the Frog
“But we can’t forget about the other frog,” the wise man continued, “the one who was dropped into boiling water and jumped right out. If you had asked that frog which he would prefer, the cool pot or the boiling one, what would the frog have said?”
“I’m not sure that frogs can talk,” the troubled man said, pleased with himself, “ but I imagine he would have chosen the cool pot.”
“Yes,” the wise man replied, “The frog would have known to his core that the cool pot was better for him. Even if we told him the cool pot would eventually boil, he still would have chosen the option of slow warming because he knew he would have so many chances to escape. I’ll know when enough is enough, he would tell himself, well before it is enough.
“We would never choose the boiling water,” he continued, “the abrupt and painful change, because we forget how often it saves us from the very things we fear most of all.
“Sometimes the only thing saving us from our own destruction is the absolute and undeniable reminder that it could come at any time. And while the slowly warming water can put a brain and body to sleep, the boiling pot of water wakes you up. That is the gift of many difficult situations and the kind of turmoil that is undeniable, unsustainable, and impossible to endure—the immediate understanding that this is wrong, this is no good, this cannot remain lest it kill us, in one way or another.
“In a world of constant anxiety and uncertainty, in a world of underlying, subtle, and seemingly ceaseless struggles and sorrows, the boiling water is the gift of clarity and certainty—the gift of knowing it is time to stop, time to leave, time to head in a new direction. It is the gift of knowing it is time to jump out of the pot, no matter what lies waiting on the other side of it, no matter how far we have to drop before we hit solid ground, and no matter how unsure we are that we’ll make it through the fall, or make it out the door, let alone make it back where we came from. The gift is the knowing that we cannot go on with this way of being, and the peace that comes with knowing there is no other way.”
∞ ∞ ∞
The Final Lessons from the Frog
“Last time I was here,” the troubled man said, “you said that when faced with adversity, we should act like tea leaves act when placed in hot water—we should change the water. Now you are saying it is better to leave the water entirely.”
“Last time we met,” the wise man replied, “we talked about resilience. We said that in our time and place, resilience is often viewed as behaving like the egg when placed in boiling water—becoming hard and lifeless, holding on and bearing adversity stoically, no matter what comes, ‘powering through,’ ‘sucking it up,’ etc. This kind of resilience, we said, is often seen as the better, stronger response—no matter what life sends your way, or the circumstances you are faced with.
“There are adversities that bring out the best in us, if we allow them, as the hot water brought out the best in the tea leaves. Yet there are also troubles that can bring us down and weaken us, and take the life out of us in one way or another. The ones that weaken and eventually destroy us tend to be the ones that sneak up on us slowly and subtly, or those that may feel beneficial at first, but then become detrimental once we’ve had too much.
“To pretend that one is the same as the other, to fail to see the distinction between these types of troubles, is to hang on or remain in damaging circumstances unnecessarily to your own detriment.”
As he spoke, the wise man looked in the direction of the frog, who was making a slow steady climb back to the lip of the pot.
“People in our time and place also tend to believe that holding on and bearing through is always the responsible thing to do—they believe it is irresponsible to say no, or to let go, and they tell this to themselves and to each other.
“Fortitude and tenacity are admirable, and necessary, but there are cases—and many of them—where troubles and turmoil are damaging, and eventually detrimental, no matter how they felt to us at first. When the situation is wrong, and damaging, and becoming more so—and there is nothing the frog can do to improve the situation while in it—the frog who stays is not showing strength or courage, resilience or responsibility. The frog instead may be showing lethargy or stagnation. Or the frog may be showing fear of the unknown, or the fear of what may come after. But the frog very well may be showing a lack of discernment—an inability to accept and understand the reality of the situation, and the ability and imperative he has to leave it.
“Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, wrote about finding meaning in, and through, adversity and suffering. He is known for saying, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way,’ and ‘In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.’ But Frankl made it clear that he was speaking of inescapable suffering, or necessary adversity. He also wrote that ‘unnecessary suffering is masochistic rather than heroic,’ and, ‘When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.’
The wise man turned looked directly at the troubled man.
“The frog who remains in the pot is no good to anyone, once the life has left him. And the frog who remains in the pot, after all, is unable to do what he was meant to do in the greater world. The gift of what is going on in your life now is that it is so intolerable, so untenable, you can no longer stand it. You still have your legs and your wits about you. Your legs have not weakened and withered. You can still jump. And no matter what other voices may tell you, you know that you should.”
At that moment, as if on cue, the frog leapt off the edge of the pot and landed on the stone floor.
The troubled man and the wise man looked at each other and down at the frog. At first the frog stood still, and they thought he might be injured. Then he jumped a little tiny hop—almost as if he were testing his legs—followed by another one. Then another, this time a full-fledged leap.
The wise man started toward the door, but the troubled man, who was closer, reached it first. The troubled man opened the door, careful not catch the frog with the corner as it swung open. “After you,” the troubled man said, and gently nudged the frog in the right direction. The frog went the rest of the way out, and was soon out past the door, headed down the path to the lake.
The troubled man turned to the wise man. “Thank you again,” he said, shook the wise man’s hand, and started to turn, meaning to head out the door. He knew what he had to do.
“Wait one moment,” the wise man said. “Remember that these lessons are for you and for no one else. A frog is able to leap because he has the means to do so, both in body and mind. At some point the frog may lose those means, and may be unable to leap, no matter how painful the situation. His arms and legs may fail him, he may be unaware of the option to leap, or he may have become aware of the option too late. A person cannot see from the outside if another has—or ever had—the means and wherewithal to leap, let go or move on—or even if he should. The tea leaves, after all, cannot, and perhaps should not, leave the water too soon. These lessons, then, are not for you to judge the actions or circumstances of others, but for you to evaluate your own.”
The troubled man looked at him, and nodded.
The wise man handed a slip of paper to the troubled man, as he had done at the end of the last visit. “Take this and read it by the lakeside,” he said. “Stay by the shore as long as it suits you, and leave when you are ready. If and when you want to come back, I will be here. And take this light. The sun is setting, and you are far from home.”
The troubled man shook the wise man’s hand once more. Then he followed after the frog, who had started down the very same footpath, but was now off somewhere unseen. Once down at the lake, the troubled man sat on the dock and unfolded his slip of paper. Like last time, it included only quotes.
The first wasn’t something he would have expected.
You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. You never count your money, when you’re sittin’ at the table, they’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealing’s done.
The troubled man laughed—perhaps the wise man had understood more of his situation than he had let on. The troubled man looked up at the house to wave, but the windows, though revealing the warm light inside, were empty. The troubled man kept reading.
“You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.” ~William Blake
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” ~Lao Tzu
“Perhaps it is better to be irresponsible and right then to be responsible and wrong.” ~Winston Churchill
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ~Leo Tolstoy.
The troubled man sat on the dock for quite some time, thinking these through. He started to stand, but realized his feet had fallen asleep. He finally got his feet under him, and stood. He looked up at the old house, and gave a small salute.
As the troubled man turned to walk, he saw movement from the corner of his eye, as a frog hopped across the dock and made a larger leap into the lake. The frog floated for a moment with its head above the water. The sky was orange and pink and gunmetal gray, and all of it was reflected on the frog and the water he floated in. Then the frog went all the way under. The troubled man stared at the water where the frog had been. Then the troubled man nodded, almost imperceptible nods.
He stood there for a while, waiting to see if the frog would surface again. Just as he decided to move on, he noticed something etched on the dock nearby, and walked over and bent down to get a closer look. Here he found his final lesson for the day:
You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. -Tagore
The troubled man took one more look across the lake. Then he turned to the path he had come down. It was dark and would get darker. But he had a light, and if he followed it, and put one foot in front of another, the same path that took him to this place, would also bring him back home. Or maybe, he thought, if he took a new direction it would take him somewhere else entirely, and he would find his way from there.
∞ ∞ ∞
Some Science Related to the Story
Canaries in coal mines, disappearing frogs, people who can feel and sense what others cannot, the impacts of emotional vs. physical pain, and what is essential in life (and what happens when it’s lacking)
[To keep the text less cluttered, references are included at the end, instead of in-text]
Imagine if you were to dip your hand in a pot of water as it was heating over a fire. Imagine it was early on in the water’s transformation from cool to boiling, and the water felt warm but comfortable to you. Now imagine that someone asked you: Is the water too warm for a frog?
You might take a guess, but you wouldn’t be able to answer (unless maybe you were a frog expert), because you are not a frog. You do not know how warmth feels to a frog, and what is too much. It is an important distinction for this story, because frogs feel things differently, and certain things much more deeply, than humans do. And maybe this is one reason why the story has held on, even though it is technically scientifically inaccurate.
The phrase canary in a coal mine came from an old practice where miners brought caged canaries down into coal mines when they were working. If the canary became sick or died, the miners knew the air was bad. Because the canary was more sensitive, the air would affect the canary before the people, and then the miners would have enough warning to get out in time.
Frogs are special in this way too. In the natural world, frogs are what are called indicator species—they can indicate when something is wrong. Because frogs’ skin is sensitive and permeable, when something is wrong in the world around them, it affects frogs first. Frog populations declined for decades, with frogs beginning to mutate and grow misshapen, before people even realized what was going on, or what was causing it. People later realized it was because of substances in the water and surroundings, things like pesticides and other chemicals and contaminants.
A common perception, or misconception, rather, is that this sort of thing is just an indicator of how frogs are weak or too sensitive—that it is another example of survival of the fittest. But some of the same things that make frogs sick or misshapen, or kill them outright, are the same things that are harmful or deadly to other creatures—including causing cancer in people—over time. So instead of being weak or too sensitive, frogs can serve as an early warning system that something is wrong in the world. They show us what is harmful before we even know it is there, or well before we would otherwise know it was a problem.
Certain people are more sensitive than the rest of us, too. Some people can feel things more deeply than others. These people, called Highly Sensitive Persons (a term developed by Dr. Elaine Aron, who began conducting research in this area in 1991), actually process their surroundings and situations differently than most, and feel things more deeply at a physiological level. Laboratory tests have shown that their nervous systems actually function differently—their neurons are more active, and they show different patterns of brain activation when presented with various stimuli. They notice things and sense subtle changes that others can’t, and can be overwhelmed by sounds and sights and other situations that wouldn’t phase most people. They tend to be more observant as well.
Highly sensitive people make up about fifteen to twenty percent of the human population, and their sensitivity is innate—it is present at birth. The presence of highly sensitive individuals has also been shown in over one hundred other species, from birds to fish to horses, and about fifteen to twenty percent of the population of these species are highly sensitive or responsive as well.
Some scientists believe there is a reason for this. Like frogs in the natural world, sensitive individuals might serve as an early warning system to the rest of the group if something is wrong. There is a reason that it is only a minority of the group as well. If everyone were so sensitive, the group might not be able to function as well in adverse or less-than-ideal conditions. But if no one were watching and sensing when things took a turn, the group could be hurt or destroyed before they even sensed it coming.
People who are highly sensitive are often viewed as being too thin-skinned, or fussy, or neurotic, or even weak in character. But instead of being viewed as too weak or too sensitive, it might make sense to view the highly sensitive as akin to a sensitive instrument—one that can’t function as well in certain conditions, and can’t be handled as roughly, but which can tell you things that a sturdier instrument cannot.
And who knows, maybe we are all more sensitive in certain situations, in different ways. There is actually a “cilantro gene,” for instance—people who have a certain gene can taste compounds in cilantro that others cannot. To those who can taste the compounds, cilantro tastes soapy and metallic. To people without the gene, cilantro tastes fresh and citrusy (or so I am told). This may explain why people either love or hate cilantro…they are having an entirely different experience. We can only imagine, at this point, as to all the ways that we taste, feel and otherwise experience the world differently, simply because of the way we are made.
The frog who leaps out of the pot early on, then, might simply be more sensitive or more attuned to a problem that others are as yet unable to sense. Think of the countless times throughout history where people identified problems or risks early on, and were ignored or laughed at. Then soon enough the problem was at a scale that most others could see or otherwise sense, and changes were made.
An onlooker or a person who only dipped their hand in the pot might wonder why the frog leapt, but the frog felt something they couldn’t. Similarly, we may be ready to leap and know we should, but others may tell us that we are being weak or sensitive and need to stick it out or power through. But we may know something, or feel something, that they cannot feel, or perhaps even fathom.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in The Little Prince. And nearly everything detrimental is invisible as well, or starts out that way. Stress, pain, poison, chemical contamination and other carcinogens, radiation, viruses and the bad kinds of bacteria, abuse of the emotional or psychological kind—none of these we can see with our eyes, but can be felt in ways that the things we can see can’t compare to. Research has shown that emotional pain can hurt just as bad as physical pain, for instance, and emotional and psychological abuse are believed to result in mental health and interpersonal issues that are as bad or even worse than those resulting from physical abuse. Studies have shown that we tend to underestimate and have less empathy for emotional pain in others, but not physical pain.
Sometimes what is detrimental is simply the absence of what is good for us (or the absence of what is essential, as said in The Little Prince). We cannot see the absence of what is invisible either, though we can feel it in our minds and bodies. We can have more than enough food and appear to be well fed, but be starved for nutrients, and in the long term experience disease and even death. Loneliness is worse for your health than obesity, and can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And a certain, perhaps deeper, kind of loneliness can be felt in the presence of people. So it is a loneliness that cannot be seen, only experienced. Science has shown that meaning, purpose, and healthy relationships are some of the most important aspects of life, in terms of health, mental health, well-being, and longevity, and if we don’t have these, we are in trouble, even if everything on the surface, everything people can see, looks good.
We tend to believe that if we have all we need (or more than we need) in terms of food and shelter and clothing, then we are necessarily doing fine. But we can literally be destroyed while being well fed and taken care of at a physical level. There was a study done after the Korean War, which examined the effects of ‘psychological warfare’ on prisoners of war in North Korean camps. As explained in the book How Full is Your Bucket?, American prisoners of war who had been detained received enough food and water, and adequate shelter. The soldiers were not subjected to torture, and incidents of physical abuse in these North Korean camps were reportedly fewer than in prison camps in any major military conflict in history. But the death rate in these camps was the highest of any prisoner of war death rate in U.S. history—38%—and half of these deaths happened with no apparent physical cause or medical justification.
Instead of physical abuse, the North Koreans had used a form of warfare which had the goal of “deny[ing] men the emotional support that comes from interpersonal relationships.” To do this, they used four tactics: informing, which involved turning prisoners against each other by offering rewards for telling on each other; self-criticism, which involved ‘group therapy’ sessions where soldiers would have to confess to one another ‘all the bad things [they] had done’, and ‘all the good things [they] could have done but failed to do’; breaking loyalty, by undermining allegiance to their superiors; and, what is argued as the most damaging tactic, withholding all positive emotional support, which involved withholding any positive or supportive letters from friends and family at home, but allowing the soldiers to receive negative letters and mail, such as overdue bills—or a partner writing to say that she had given up on the soldier’s return, and planned to marry or remarry.
“The effects were devastating,” Tom Rath and Donald Clifton write in How Full is Your Bucket? “The soldiers had nothing to live for and lost basic belief in themselves and their loved ones…” The many soldiers who died without medical justification had done so, “simply because they had given up. They had completely given up, both mentally and physically.”
The soldiers did not have the option to escape, to make a leap and head elsewhere. But most of us, in most cases, have the ability to leave a harmful situation. And we may know on a deeper level that it is something we need to do, that something just does not feel right. And it might be a matter of literally saving our lives, as well. How Full is Your Bucket? notes, for instance, that bad bosses could increase the risk of stroke by 33%.
We cannot allow others to decide for us when it is time to hold on, and when it is time to let go. We may feel something they cannot feel, and certainly cannot see. And likewise, we should not judge another for their decision to leap, let go, or move on. They may be in the midst of something invisible or seemingly inconsequential to us, but something that is a matter of life and death to them.
∞ ∞ ∞
Some Final Thoughts on the Frog Story in the Age of Corona (April 2020)
The analogy of the frog jumping out of the pot does not only refer to circumstances that we have been placed in by others, or against our will. It also refers to the circumstances we’ve put ourselves in, either as individuals or collectively, through our choices and habits. The frog leaping out of the pot does not necessarily mean physically exiting a place or situation, or ending involvement in a relationship, job, group or institution. It can also mean choosing to stop participating in certain behaviors, behaviors that we willingly engaged in, and now understand to be unhealthy for us in one way or another. It can be letting go and moving on from a lifestyle or way of living that no longer suits us, or that we’ve found is leading us somewhere we don’t want to go.
I opened to a passage in a book the other day:
“It is not only our right at certain times to say ‘no’; it is our deepest responsibility. For it is a gift to ourselves when we say ‘no’ to those old habits that dissipate our energy, ‘no’ to what robs us of our inner joy, ‘no to what distracts us from our purpose. And it is a gift to others to say ‘no’ when their expectations do not ring true for us, for in doing so, we free them to discover more fully the truth of their own path. Saying ‘no’ can be liberating when it expresses our commitment to take a stand for what we believe we truly need.” ~John Robbins and Ann Mortifee, In Search of Balance: Discovering Harmony in Changing World
We’ve been in the midst of a loneliness epidemic for quite a while now, becoming more and more isolated from one another, especially in terms of face-to-face interaction (or what used to be called “being together”). Maybe the place we are now, where we cannot see or hug or touch each other, eat meals together or play cards in each other’s homes, is the proverbial boiling water we need, to see where we were allowing ourselves to go.
We’ve been far away from nature and our neighborhoods, instead we’ve spent so many hours of so many days sedentary, stuck inside, staying behind closed doors staring at our screens. We’ve been content to keep our eye on our finances and the stock market, pretending that the numbers we saw were real, instead of focusing on what—and who—was really real, and right in front of us. We’ve been buying things and food from people we don’t know, from places far away, and funneling what we’ve earned to a few people and companies who already have more than enough, while we let the places and people in our communities waste away. Instead of using our own energy, we’ve used energy we bought—and paid dearly for, in more ways than one—to move us around, and get to all the many places we thought we needed to be, errands we needed to run…and that money, too, we funneled to people who don’t need it. We became more and more mobile, to the point where we were rootless, frenetic in our need to bound around and see and do, only to find that wherever we went, there we were.
Now, during this time, we have had a brief turnaround, what might be the equivalent of leaping out of the pot, and feeling that enormous contrast and immediate relief. We are spending time talking with our families and people we love, we are walking in the neighborhood, kids are playing outside, we are looking back to the land and the local—and to each other—for what we eat and need to use, spending less on what we don’t need or even particularly want—less money, less time, and less energy. Errands and activities that seemed so crucial and time sensitive, now we are finding we can go weeks without. We are getting active, and getting outside. And we are feeling what it feels to breathe cleaner air, and to hear softer sounds and even silence, as so much of what seemed to be necessary noise and activity has come to a standstill. We’ve gone from consuming and compiling to creating and contributing, and we are feeling what that shift feels like as well, how much easier it is to breathe and to be with ourselves when we are doing so.
We are so uncertain about the future that we are turning to the here and now instead of constantly counting what we have, compiling and projecting and planning for a future that may never come. As we have learned these past couple of months, one thing we can be sure of is that the future will certainly not come in the way any of us imagined.
Maybe this is both the proverbial boiling water, and the proverbial leap out of it. We can’t pretend that all of this will happen outside of us, that the future will happen without our input or participation, because we are the ones who are going to be creating it, for ourselves and for each other. And we are going to be the ones living in that world, and dealing with the consequences.
∞ ∞ ∞
Resources, References and Further Reading
Frogs as Indicator Species:
Marshall, J. (2013, July/August). Indicator Species: Using Frogs and Salamanders to Gauge Ecosystem Health. GRIT. https://www.grit.com/departments/indicator-species-zm0z13jazgou
Wilkinson, T. (1996, May). Frogs: The Ultimate Indicator Species. High Country News. https://www.hcn.org/issues/60/1859
Impact of Chemicals/Pollution on Frogs:
Egea-Serrano, A., Relyea, R. A., Tejedo, M., & Torralva, M. (2012). Understanding of the impact of chemicals on amphibians: a meta-analytic review. Ecology and evolution, 2(7), 1382–1397. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.249
Pesticides and Cancer
Bassil, K. L., Vakil, C., Sanborn, M., Cole, D. C., Kaur, J. S., & Kerr, K. J. (2007). Cancer health effects of pesticides: systematic review. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 53(10), 1704–1711. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2231435/
Tesifón Parrón, Mar Requena, Antonio F. Hernández, Raquel Alarcón, (2014) Environmental exposure to pesticides and cancer risk in multiple human organ systems,
Toxicology Letters, Volume 230, Issue 2, 2014, Pages 157-165, ISSN 0378-4274, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.toxlet.2013.11.009.
Highly Sensitive Persons:
Aron, Elaine. The Highly Sensitive Person. https://hsperson.com/
Aron, Elaine. Summaries of Research—Easy Reads. http://hsperson.com/research/summaries-of-research-easy-reads/
Research Articles by Elaine Aron and Her Collaborators: http://hsperson.com/research/published-articles/
“Articles by Others That Are Especially Relevant”: http://hsperson.com/research/published-articles/#other-articles
Highly Sensitive and Responsive Animals (Over 100 species…):
Max Wolf, G. Sander van Doorn, Franz J. Weissing, Evolutionary emergence of responsive and unresponsive personalities, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Oct 2008, 105 (41) 15825-15830; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0805473105
Wu, Leslie. (2018, February 28). Why Genetics May be the Reason you Hate Cilantro. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lesliewu/2018/02/28/why-genetics-may-be-the-reason-you-hate-cilantro/#4c48c9b5206d
Petruzzello, Melissa. Why Does Cilantro Taste Like Soap to Some People? Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/story/why-does-cilantro-taste-like-soap-to-some-people
Emotional or Psychological Pain and Abuse vs. Physical Pain and Abuse:
Loudenback, J. (2015, October) Is Emotional Abuse as Harmful as Physical and Sexual Abuse? The Chronicle of Social Change https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/featured/emotional-abuse-harmful-physical-sexual-abuse/13944
Terri L. Messman-Moore PhD & Aubrey A. Coates (2007) The Impact of Childhood Psychological Abuse on Adult Interpersonal Conflict, Journal of Emotional Abuse, 7:2, 75-92, DOI: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/j135v07n02_05
Winch, G. (2014). 5 Ways Emotional Pain Is Worse Than Physical Pain: Why emotional pain causes longer-lasting damage to our lives. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201407/5-ways-emotional-pain-is-worse-physical-pain
Norman, R. E., Byambaa, M., De, R., Butchart, A., Scott, J., & Vos, T. (2012). The long-term health consequences of child physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS medicine, 9(11), e1001349. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001349
Dawn Chirichella-Besemer & Robert W. Motta (2008) Psychological Maltreatment and its Relationship with Negative Affect in Men and Women, Journal of Emotional Abuse, 8:4, 423-445, DOI: 10.1080/10926790802480380
Irving (August, 2008). Emotional pain hurts more than physical pain, researchers say. The Telegraph https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2639959/Emotional-pain-hurts-more-than-physical-pain-researchers-say.html
Loneliness akin to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, Loneliness epidemic
Pomeroy, Claire. (2019, March 20) Loneliness Is Harmful to Our Nation’s Health: Research underscores the role of social isolation in disease and mortality. Scientific American. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/loneliness-is-harmful-to-our-nations-health/
HSRA (2019) The Loneliness Epidemic. Health Resources and Services Administration https://www.hrsa.gov/enews/past-issues/2019/january-17/loneliness-epidemic
Relationships, purpose and meaning, and health and longevity
Evans, K. (2018, September 14) Why Relationships Are the Secret to Healthy Aging. Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_relationships_are_the_secret_to_healthy_aging
Harvard Health Letter. (2017) Can relationships boost longevity and well-being? Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/can-relationships-boost-longevity-and-well-being
Yang, Y. C., Boen, C., Gerken, K., Li, T., Schorpp, K., & Harris, K. M. (2016). Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(3), 578–583. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1511085112
Association for Psychological Science. “Having a sense of purpose may add years to your life.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 May 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140512124308.htm.
L. Hill, N. A. Turiano. Purpose in Life as a Predictor of Mortality Across Adulthood. Psychological Science, 2014; DOI: 10.1177/0956797614531799
LaBier, D. (2020, Jan. 31) A Hidden Link Between Your Life Purpose and Physical Health. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-new-resilience/202001/hidden-link-between-your-life-purpose-and-physical-health
Alimujiang A, Wiensch A, Boss J, et al. Association Between Life Purpose and Mortality Among US Adults Older Than 50 Years. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(5):e194270. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.4270 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2734064?utm_source=For_The_Media&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=ftm_links&utm_term=052419
North Korean Camp Prisoners of War and Psychological Abuse/Warfare
Rath, T. and Clifton, D.O. (2009) How full is your bucket? (Expanded Anniversary Edition). Gallup Press, New York.