Thinking About Fleas

As we all know, all books are not created equal. There are books and then there are books that change who we are. Maybe it is the story or the character. Maybe it is just a line in the book, maybe it is the whole book that changes us. But somewhere an idea is presented that changes how we think about ourselves and the world around us. 

And that is why I am sitting here on a Sunday night thinking about fleas. You see, I discovered one of those life-changing ideas in the book Self Matters, written by Phillip C. McGraw, Ph.D.. Yes, I am talking about Dr. Phil, but before you stop reading, hear me out. I can honestly say that page 95 of that book changed my life. He talks about research done with fleas in a jar. There is a lid on the jar and the fleas jump up and hit the lid for hours. Eventually the fleas learn to avoid the lid and jump just below it. An amazing thing happens when the researchers took the lid off. The fleas won’t jump out. No lid, no limits, and the fleas are perfectly content with jumping just under where the lid was. They condition themselves to limit what they are capable of doing because of temporary environmental conditions.

Now, the first time I read that I was blown away. In the many years since I read that I still find myself reflecting on the truth in that experiment. There are so many things that I have learned from that example. I think of who I am and what I am really capable. The plain and simple truth is that there is no limit to what you or I (or anyone) can do with this life. We live in a world that is constantly trying to put lids on and unfortunately we do get conditioned to think we cannot when we really can.

I love the short verse in Luke 1:37 and I like to think that is a line of scripture that is written on my heart. This simple story of fleas makes me think of great quotes like the following from Maryanne Williamson (used by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech):

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

“Playing small” is a powerful way to put it. We are great and there is no lid! We need to surround ourselves with individuals who get that simple fact and live great lives. Shun the mediocrity of the day and swim upstream. Build. Love. Take chances. Say what needs to be said when it needs to be said with no regrets. We are not fleas and through the choices that we make, we can control how we will respond to the conditions that life presents to us.

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