After he’d spent half an hour digging in the lawn and dining on bugs and worms, the young raccoon came prancing up to the patio door. Whoa! What was that?
He stopped short; backed away. Tilted his head. Backed up a little further. Arched his back. Advanced. Retreated. Advanced again, more aggressively this time. Retreated. Puffed up a little bigger.
On he continued with his dance, becoming more and more agitated with each movement. What was he doing? Trying to intimidate the threat that was right in front of his face, plain to see.
The threat, of course, was his own reflection. Each time he advanced, the perceived threat advanced. When he arched his back and puffed himself up, so did his antagonist. There was just no getting ahead of this guy!
It’s all funny and cute when you see this happening to a raccoon. But how about when it’s happening to us?
Let’s say that I am presenting a proposal to a group of skeptical people. When I look at the faces around the table, I may perceive that the group is antagonistic or I may perceive that they are supportive.
If I perceive antagonism, I may inadvertently use a more defensive or aggressive approach than I would if I were sensing support and encouragement. That choice, in turn, may influence whether the group ultimately moves from skepticism to support, or from skepticism to antagonism.
When we detect what we perceive to be a conflict, we may behave as if we expect conflict. Some of us even puff ourselves up to look more intimidating. And then, we may well end up with a conflict! See, I was right!
The raccoon looks in a reflective door and perceives a threat. Had he perceived a playmate, he might have responded differently.
From our superior human perches, we know there’s no threat. But from the raccoon’s perspective, what he is seeing with his own eyes is another raccoon—one that looks like a threat, acts like a threat, and moves like a threat. So, he responds in kind.
Facts matter, but sometimes it can be surprisingly hard to tell exactly what the facts are. We experience the world through our senses. Our senses might not lie to us; however, our interpretation of what we see, hear, or touch can be misleading.
For example, are you feeling worried? And now you have a new wart? Can a deadly disease be far behind?
Feeling down and troubled? Watching TV? Does everything you see there reinforce those feelings?
Feeling angry? Then the door slams shut in front of you. That was probably planned as a deliberate insult, wasn’t it?
But what if the worries, the conflicts, and the discouragements that we see are just our own reflections, so to speak? Is it worth keeping our minds open to that possibility as we try to figure out what to do in a specific situation?
Sometimes a conflict (or an image in the patio door) is most effectively met with aggression, assertiveness, and power. Other times it might be best met by not meeting it at all—by avoiding or retreating.
Wisdom is when you’re able to discern which is which!
The coon on the patio eventually retreated, and of course, his reflection retreated too. Spared the requirement to do battle with the door, he waddled off to bed for the day.
When we’re faced with a conflict, a worry, or a discouraging situation, maybe a helpful first step to keep in mind is to stop. Take a step back. See what happens. If your antagonist also takes a step back, perhaps it means that some of what you are seeing is your own reflection.
What do you think?