People chase rabbits.
Not real, fluffy rabbits. Metaphorical rabbits.
One of my favorite metaphors for life is a greyhound dog race: the dogs run at 39 MPH trying to catch a mechanical rabbit that is always just ahead of them. 1 Think about this as a metaphor for our lives and the goals we set: it’s an interesting, slightly depressing, and eerily accurate depiction of what we do.
We strive to reach goals, but even as we reach one, there’s always another. We’ll never 100% complete our potential. We’ll never find every answer. But we still chase these things. Why? What’s the benefit? Is it better than not chasing things?
I’ve introduced some questions, and to answer them and change things up, I’ve written my thoughts out as a fictional discussion. Let’s listen to Stan and Tricia discuss dogs, rabbits, and the meaning of pursuit.
Stan: Why do the dogs chase the rabbit if they’ll never catch it?
Tricia: What would the dogs do instead of chasing the rabbit? The rabbit gives them something to do, and something to strive for.
Stan: But if they don’t catch it, then it’s only false hope and pointless striving. The point of chasing something is to catch it!
Tricia: Catching the rabbit might be the focus, but is it the benefit? The dogs are single-mindedly chasing this rabbit, but there are other things happening as well. The dogs enjoy the chase and the feeling of running. One look at a greyhound’s body and you can see that they were designed to run. So it’s like by chasing the rabbit, they’re living in harmony with their identity as a greyhound. Then, when the race is over, one of the dogs will have won the race and achieved success in that way, even without catching the rabbit. And as the dog looks back, if dogs are capable of reflection, it will realize how much it enjoyed the race.
Stan: But the race seems grueling and difficult!
Tricia: True. The dogs work hard to run at such speeds.
Stan: I wonder if they notice it. I know that sometimes when I’m playing sports, I don’t even realize how hard I’m working because I’m focused on the game. I’ve even felt that way working in my cubicle before.
Tricia: You were in the zone! Or as some say, a state of flow.
Stan: Could I get myself to always want my metaphorical rabbits as much as those greyhounds love their fake mechanical rabbits?
Tricia: I don’t think that’s going to happen. Humans are too complex emotionally to always have a burning desire to move forward. The dogs are just operating by instinct. They don’t know how to NOT chase the rabbit every time.
Stan: Then my instinct is to watch TV all day, haha.
Tricia: While that’s funny, I don’t believe it’s accurate to say that it’s instinct. Instinct is something innate to a species, and TV wasn’t even around when our ancestors were alive! I’d say it’s more like we’ve trained ourselves to be this way over time. Maybe we’ve overwritten our instinct, or at least buried it. With so many inventions and innovations to make our lives easier, in many ways, we’ve stopped needing to run after our metaphorical rabbits on foot. We are now chasing them in a car, with leather seating and air conditioning… and Katy Perry on the radio!!!
Stan: I think you’re on to something there… not with Katy Perry, but with the other thing you said. As we’ve made everything easier, I think we’ve incidentally changed modes with it; we’ve tamed our wild nature. It’s like our metaphorical rabbits stopped running and now we don’t know what to do, so we just watch TV instead.
Tricia: Let’s think about this. What would happen to the greyhounds if the rabbits didn’t run? I think they’d love it at first. They’d be fascinated at catching the rabbit without effort. But after some time, I think they’d begin to miss the chase. They’d miss the challenge. They’d get bored, lazy, and I bet they wouldn’t run 39 MPH anymore. It’s got to be the same with us!
Stan: You know, I’ve been struggling a lot lately. I feel like my rabbits aren’t running anymore, or else they’re gone and I’ve stopped chasing them. I just feel a disconnect between my desire to be aggressive and the fact that I’m not.
Tricia: Don’t feel too bad. The modern world has effectively shot our rabbits with tranquilizer darts. How many of us are like lost greyhounds, hoping to see a rabbit that catches our eye and ignites our inner fire to race after it?
Stan: A lot of us. But now that I think of it, we’ve been trained into a new concept altogether, haven’t we? We’ve been trained to believe that easy is better, that it’s better to have the rabbit given to you than it is to have to chase it down. So the very idea of challenging ourselves is unappealing.
Tricia: What do you mean?
Stan: There’s one main rabbit that humanity has chased since the beginning. Let’s call it the Mother of All Rabbits.
Tricia: Fine. It’s the Mother of All Rabbits. Go on.
Stan: Thanks. Okay, so, the Mother of All Rabbits has been caught by many nations in the modern world. But since the rabbit has been caught, we’ve realized that it isn’t as glorious as we assumed it’d be. I think we’re realizing that we have a little bit of greyhound in us that wants to run, but we can’t find the rabbit anymore.
Tricia: What rabbit are you talking about? Haha, if anyone heard us talking about rabbits like this, we’d be institutionalized.
Stan: Oh come on, it’s not as crazy as writing a story about two people talking like this. (Hey Stan, this is Stephen, and I will terminate your character if you continue to say such things to me.)
Tricia: The question…
Stan: Right. The Mother of All Rabbits is comfort. In earlier times and in some places today, basic comforts like clean water, access to food, shelter, companionship, and more have been scarce or difficult to obtain. Easy access to these basic human needs became humanity’s mechanical rabbit. It still is in many places, but across the world, many people have reached an unprecedented level of comfort. Again, the technology of today completely outclasses anything that could be possible previously: indoor plumbing, air conditioning, microwaves, food distribution, dishwashers, washing machines… need I go on?
Tricia: I get it. But isn’t this a worthy pursuit?
Stan: It is, and many places in the world still don’t have it, but just as the dogs enjoy chasing the rabbits more than not chasing the rabbits, catching The Mother of All Rabbits has left many of us in a tough spot. Not many people want to give up such comforts, but it’s hard to say that we’re 100% better off with them either. It’s taken away our inner fire that we used to need to survive. Now that it’s so easy, it’s like we’re all on life support. Like a greyhound that doesn’t run, we get weaker and weaker, mentally and physically, from the lack of rabbits to chase. Even as adults, we’re spoon fed our food and entertainment. We sit and consume.
Tricia: I get it. It explains why we have gyms! How ridiculous is the concept of a gym with weights and machines? If we had to hunt down a bear to eat dinner tonight, necessity would give us the healthy bodies we need.
Stan: I think the bear would still win.
Tricia: Yes, bears are terrifying, but that’s beside the point.
Stan: What do you think the answer is for the modern person with modern comforts?
Tricia: For every person it’s different, and it’s important not to take such comforts for granted if you happen to live in a place that has them, as many others places aren’t so fortunate. But I think the key goes back to our example. If you’re a greyhound and you have no rabbit to chase, what’s your next move? You look for one! Too many people don’t look for the next rabbit because they see two dozen rabbits sitting motionless before them. These aren’t the rabbit we want. We want the rabbit that will run, and fast, and require us to use our greatest effort to catch it. These are the rabbits that ignite that innate, instinctual nature that is so often buried underneath modern luxuries.
Stan: So… find your passion?
Tricia: Kind of. I’d say it’s more like find your challenge. I like that more. Finding your passion seems like an automatic, magical process that some people are blessed with and others aren’t. Passion is emotion-based too. But the real prize we’re after is the joy of challenge. In the modern era, this is what has been removed from our lives. Where’s the challenge in a microwave dinner? Where’s the challenge in turning a faucet to get clean water (instead of walking miles to the river to retrieve and haul back water)?
Stan: So we should make meals from scratch and drink river water?
Tricia: It’s possible I will slap you soon. But actually, cooking your own meals might be a good example. It’s a challenge to cook good food. It’s a challenge to create new recipes that don’t taste like rabbit food.
Stan: Oh! I just had an epiphany. Don’t slap me yet. I just realized what these modern comforts are meant to do for us! These modern comforts are for us to rely on, they’re there so that we can focus on other things! When you don’t have to spend half of your day searching for water, you have a lot more time for anything else that might interest you.
Tricia: That was good enough to avoid the slap. I agree with you.
Stan: Now when I watch TV, I’m going to think about this. TV is not a moving rabbit. There’s no challenge in it for me, which is why I feel like I’m lifeless after watching it for several hours. It doesn’t ignite much of anything within me because I’m not the one doing the chasing. I’m watching others chase things, which explains why it’s interesting, but not fulfilling.
Tricia: I’m proud of you, Stan. I think you’re on to something good here. I’m going to examine my life too, and see what challenges interest me.
At this point, Stan leans in for a kiss, and Tricia slaps him.
Tricia: There’s another lesson. You won’t always catch the rabbit.
Stan smiles and rubs his cheek.
Stan: Duly noted.