Us humans also have defense mechanisms that we use to avoid unwanted attention, to disappear off the radar screen of whatever threat we are perceiving. This can be useful in some instances and harmful in others. In the case of the opossum, when it chooses to play dead in response to rapidly approaching cars on the highway, it often finds itself truly dead, as in road kill dead. Hopefully less fatal for us, when we choose to “play dead” and not deal with certain issues or people, we too can get (figuratively) run over.
Let’s look at some steps that we — and the opossum – can consider in assessing these situations.
Objectivity: Just how fast is that car moving? At times we perceive threats to be greater than they really are. If we can calmly and objectively review the situation, we may find that the danger is not as imminent or as ominous as we thought. By pausing and allowing ourselves to put the matter into perspective, we free up the energy we were expending on worry and we become better able to problem solve. This puts us in a much better position than playing dead.
Priorities: Do I really need to cross this road? We don’t always have to choose between “facing” a threat and being cowed by it. Sometimes it’s best to just walk away if we are able. We can pick and choose our battles – to some extent – and maybe it’s just not that important that we engage in this particular situation. This is not the same as avoidance. We’re making a deliberate choice. We can’t always walk away from a threat, or course, but we also don’t always have to buy into other people’s drama, and we don’t need to have knee-jerk reactions just because someone else wants us to feel threatened. We’re not playing dead in this case. We’re choosing not to “play” at all.
Action: What if I make a run for it? Sometimes, instead of passively hoping the harm will pass us by, we can actively take steps to get out of harm’s way. We don’t have to stand in the middle of the highway and wait for the approaching danger to come and nail us. If we know what steps we can take to avert the danger, we may need to find the courage to do so. We might not be able to stay under the radar and avoid attention in this case, but it’s probably better than ending up as road kill.
So, for all of the opossums reading this, this may help you survive another thousand years or so. If you’ve evolved to the point where you can actually read this, however, you probably don’t need my help.
For the human population reading this, if you have to cross a busy highway, look both ways and be careful. If the opossums learn to drive, we’re in a lot of trouble.
All the best,