I don’t know if it’s true, but someone once told me that domesticated birds can be trained to sit by an open window—and not fly away. You put their perch next to an open window, but you tie one foot to the perch, so that when the bird attempts to fly out the window, it can’t. You do this for days and weeks, and before long the bird stops trying to fly out that window. It’s impossible. Eventually, you can untie the foot and the bird will sit by that open window and never try the “impossible.”
That reminds me of the circus elephant, trained to sit quietly with his foot chained to a stake in the ground. At first, the trainer chains the elephant’s leg to a stake driven deep into the ground: it’s impossible even for an elephant to yank it free. The beast tries of course, heaves on the spike, but to no avail. Once the elephant has learned that stakes are impossible to fight against, you can drive a little picket into the ground that a rabbit could probably pull out, and the elephant no longer even tries. He knows what he knows.
Or this haunting experiment. Researchers put a bass in an aquarium and filled it with minnows. All day that happy bass feasted on its favorite food. Then they slid a glass divider into the aquarium. The minnows they put on one side of the divider and the bass on the other. The fish would see a minnow, swim for it and bang—he’d collide with some invisible wall. Again and again the poor bass would go for what looked like the perfect, easy meal, only to find it impossible.
If they do this long enough, the researchers can take out the glass divider and the minnows will swim right by the bass and he won’t even try to get them. They can brush up against his gills and he won’t do a thing. He will actually die in a tank filled with his favorite food because he has learned too well: you can see ‘em but you can’t actually have ‘em.
Be careful, then, what you “learn” from life. As Mark Twain said, “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it—and stop there—lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again, and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more.”
We are quick to “learn” too much for our experiences, especially the painful things, our losses and failures. We are so self-protective. Once we have been hurt, we vow never to be hurt again. We learn to avoid the challenge, to give up because that is the easiest way to ensure our safety.
If you choose to live within a “safe” world for the rest of your life, you can do that. If you wish to live free, however, you will have to forfeit some of that security. You will have to fly out a window today, or pull out a stake and walk away from the circus, or eat a minnow, or sit down on a cold stove lid.