Friend or Foe?

Not Smart Enough for College (21)

Several years ago, our little granddaughter, Alicia, spent the night with us. When she awoke the next morning, she looked at me and said, “I had the worst nightmare ever last night!” Alicia was seven years old, so I was very interested in what her “worst nightmare ever” could be.


She dreamed she was a little mouse living in a big store, and she saw herself running around while people were screaming, running willy-nilly, climbing up the shelves, knocking merchandise to the floor, and creating all sorts of confusion. They were going crazy as they tried to stomp on her and scoot her out the door. She was afraid for her life.


As she told me about her dream I could see and understand the confusion and panic she described, after all, I have witnessed similar things with my sisters when I was younger.


As I listened to Alicia, I began to wonder why people are so afraid of mice. We hear all sorts of stories about people and elephants being afraid of mice. But why is this the case?


I started thinking about my father and remembered an experience that demonstrated not everyone is afraid of mice.


One day when Dad was 91 years old, I was visiting him and his wife Eva. We were chatting in the front room when a little mouse stuck his head out from under a chair. My dad noticed it and when I turned to look at that little mouse, I thought I saw him smile at dad and even dip a whisker as a token of friendship. Then I looked at my dad and watched him hold out his hand and wiggle his fingers in a friendly way, trying to coax the mouse to come closer.


I looked at Eva and instead of screaming and jumping up on the chair as a sign of fear, she was smiling at Dad and nonverbally encouraging him. At that moment I wondered what was wrong with my father. Didn’t he know that mice are supposed to be scary animals whose only purpose for existing is to terrify people?


The reactions of the individuals involved in these two events couldn’t have been more different. As I thought about this, I wondered why a little mouse only 2 or 3 inches long could cause such different emotions and reactions in people. I suppose that there are many reasons, but perhaps the main one is their perception of mice.


Only after knowing why we are afraid of something can we alter our response, maybe even choosing, like Dad, to offer a hand of friendship. In other words, each of us have fears and the questions to ask ourselves are what are our fears and how are we going to handle them? Are we going to let them stop us or are we going to conquer and move forward? One of the best helps we can offer our children is to help them understand their fears or the challenges that impact them and then guide them through the process of not letting their fears overpower them or lead them to irrational reactions.


If you stop to think about it, mice and men have undoubtedly been locked in an endless battle since the dawn of time. Wild mice, as other rodents, have carried and continue to carry diseases which can make us very sick or even die, such as plagues of the past and Hantavirus in our neck of the woods today. Mice can make a great mess in our homes as they are fond of gnawing at just about anything they can find to make themselves a nice little nest home of their own. They also like to eat most everything we work to produce and store for ourselves and our animals and would be delighted to contaminate our food as they eat us out of house and home. Left to their own devices, a single breeding pair of mice, given unlimited food, water and protection from predators, can produce an astounding 5 million mice in a single year!


Perhaps our collective memory of mankind’s endless battle against such a formidable foe excites the frantic rushing about and screaming so commonly associated with the appearance of such a small little creature with bright eyes and a twinkling smile. Or maybe not, I don’t really know. 


What I do know for sure is that like the people in Alicia’s dream, our fears are often misperceptions about the kind of danger something represents, and with thoughtful observation and consideration, we can learn to overcome frenzied and ineffective reactions.


Happy Failing Forward,


Calvert and Anne

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