Old Story: How a Snake Learned to Hiss and Save Himself
From an old folk take. Read it to learn how to protect your emotional boundaries.
My mother once told me a story about a short tempered, territorial snake that lived in the hollow of a giant tree in the woods. He bit everyone that passed by. Children were terrified of the tree and never played there. One day this all changed.
A wandering monk made the snake see the error of his ways, so he stopped biting and spewing venom at everyone. Children began to play near the tree now — they climbed up the tree, ran around it and swung from it. And once they got to know the snake was now practically a saint, they started torturing him. They hurled stones at him, tugged at his tail and scared him witless with their wild screams and games. It got so bad that one day, the snake almost died.
Once again the wandering monk noticed all this. He was filled with compassion for the snake. “I only told you not to use your strength indiscriminately” , he said. “I never told you to turn your goodness into a weakness. Go on, show them what harm you ‘might’ do — without actually ‘doing’ any harm. Go save yourself.” The snake understood. He nodded weakly and slithered back into his hole.
The next time he came out of his home, the children were at it again. They drew closer, ready to throw sticks and stones and break his bones. But this time, he didn’t lie there quietly. He drew himself up, head held high, stuck his fangs out and hissed. “Sssssssss”, he said. Loudly. It was a terrifying sound. The children ran away. They never came back.
The snake lived happily ever after, secure in the knowledge that he now possessed a new tool in his tool belt. The art and skill of protecting himself without having to hurt others.
I apply this approach everyday in every way.
I use this when people cross boundaries….when people take me for granted… when people think my empathy is a weakness… when people think they can manipulate me just because I am not always telling them where to get off…when people think I am not clever enough to see when they take advantage…..so many situations.
I use this lesson at work, at home, everywhere.
First I had to learn not to get territorial and bite people’s head off for taking liberties or taking me for granted. Then I got hurt. I got mangled. Finally, I learnt to hiss. So I hiss now. Just loudly enough to scare, to inform, to educate, to help people know where the lines are. And usually one deadly hiss is more than enough :-)