Be the Bison

I’ve been teaching a course on Communication Skills. In the process I also took a course on teaching Communication Skills and was being mentored by a seasoned instructor.  It has been an extremely revealing experience and through the course for instructors, the experience with my mentor, and the process of actually delivering the course to my participants, I’ve learned a lot.  I’ve also learned some tactics for difficult conversations that, if I’d had a few years ago, may have changed the direction of my life.

One of the things that really struck me was the challenge to ‘Be the Bison.’

Have you ever noticed a group of cows standing together in the corner of a field?  Sometimes they’re so squished together it seems ridiculous.  I’ve wondered why this happened but never taken the time to figure it out.  What they’re doing is standing there, cowering in fear, trying to get away from something inevitable.  Even before a storm comes, they’ll gather together because they sense it. They’ll cower as far away from the storm as they think they can get (which, of course, doesn’t actually help them at all) and because they anticipate the storm and spend time fearing it, they end up experiencing the storm far longer than it even lasts.

This is how most of us are in our lives – be it with work, friends, family.  We know something uncomfortable, some storm, is going to happen or needs to happen and yet we essentially cower in a corner  – hoping it will go away. But it won’t just go away, and like the cows, we end up experiencing the stress of this problem far longer than necessary.  Maybe we stay up at night thinking about it, maybe we complain to our partner or friends but never actually face it and so we continually experience the stress and pain of this oncoming storm.

The Bison, however, experience the coming of a storm in a very different way. They also sense the storm but rather than cowering in fear, the Bison, knowing the storm is going to come no matter what, heads toward it.  Bison will march into the middle of a field, face the storm, get ready, and then walk right into it, because they know that if they’re standing up to the storm, walking toward it and not away, they’re going to be out of it quicker.  They get the feeling of fear over with. They not only make themselves ready for the inevitable, they invite it.

When I first heard this concept I definitely saw myself as a cow.  I could think of so many situations where I had some difficult conversation I should have had with someone and yet I put it off and put it off.  I stressed about it, I agonized over it, I talked to the people in my life about it until they became absolutely sick of the topic.  And that’s . . . well, it’s stupid, and pointless, and destructive.  It certainly didn’t solve any problems or help me get through a storm.  Really, in our lives that kind of behaviour tends to create more storms to deal with.

We need to be the bison and not cower away from the things that scare us or make us uncomfortable.  The storms of life will inevitably come, so why not face them?  And face them with strength, determination, and power.  Sure, it’ll feel uncomfortable at first, it may even be scary, but if we get comfortable with the feeling of being uncomfortable – that discomfort will begin to lessen.

This whole idea of being the bison can even apply to storms of our own making. Maybe we’ve determined there needs to be some change in our lives – a goal we’ve been wanting to conquer for a long time but just don’t take the steps needed, a habit or trait we know needs to be ripped out of our lives but we’re cowering in fear from the work that it will take and the emotional pain it may cause . . . maybe something we need to admit to or deal with, some scar from one of life’s previous storms.

So give it a try, BE THE BISON, and I will too.  If you happen to know me personally and see me cowering in a corner like a cow, I give you permission – give me a nudge and tell me to stand up straight, throw my shoulders back, and walk on out into the storm.

Image taken from Independent Lens “Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison”, Colorado Public Television.”

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