I first encountered this story near the end of the book An Adult Child's Guide to What's “Normal” by Friel and Friel, but beyond that, I have no idea where it originated.
In many ways, I hope to make the monsters of Cognitive Biases something of friends by what they tell us about ourselves. May we continue to learn from our mistakes and those uncomfortable parts of ourselves that tend to scare us. May they become our respected friends and instruments for fostering healthy growth.
Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived in a village far from the big city. The village was nestled in a beautiful, sunlit valley surrounded by a tall snow-capped mountain range.
As the little girl grew older, she began to hike in the foothills at the base of the mountains, and when she became a teenager, she asked her parents if she could hike over the mountains to the village on the other side to visit her grandparents.
At first, her parents were very upset and worried, and they told her that she could not go. But the little girl pleaded and begged and argued that someday she would be a young woman, and that she would have to grow up sometime. After several months of debate, her parents finally agreed to let her go.
Her father and mother taught her all that they knew about hiking and camping and surviving alone in the woods. They made her a backpack out of sturdy canvas, helped her pack, and then they all knelt down and prayed that she might have a safe journey. The next day she began her trek over the mountains.
Her first night alone was scary, but she managed to build a good fire, ate some of the sausage and cheese that her father had packed for her, and then fell asleep, covered by the soft quilts that her mother had made for her. The howling of the wolves frightened her a little, but she kept her fire burning brightly most of the night, which made her feel safer.
The next day she awoke with the sun, ate her biscuits and jam while sunning herself on a big granite rock, then began hiking up the mountains. Late in the afternoon as the sun slipped behind the tops of the mountains, she reached a fork in the path. She did not know which way to go. Perplexed, she sat down and prayed for wisdom.
A few moments later she heard terrible frightening noises coming from the direction of both paths. Her heart raced and her palms sweated. Suddenly, from both paths, two monsters appeared. They were growling, gurgling, grumbling and snorting. The little girl grabbed her backpack and began to run down the hill, back toward her village, and then something inside of her told her to stop.
“Other people have hiked over these mountains and returned to tell about it,” she thought to herself. “Maybe I’d better go back and see what this is all about.”
The little girl stopped and turned around. The monsters had stopped right at the fork in the road, and something told her that they were trying to communicate with her. Slowly and carefully she walked back toward the monsters.
As she got closer, the monster guarding the path on the left said, “Take this path, it is much safer, and much quicker. Take this path and you’ll see your grandparents tomorrow night”
At that very moment, the monster guarding the path on the right began to screech and howl a horrible blood-curdling howl. Fire belched from its mouth; smoke poured from its nose. The little girl was terribly frightened!
She bolted toward the monster on the left! As she got closer, she noticed that the monster on the left was not as ugly as the one on the right; and it was definitely not as scary. The closer she came to the one on the left, the louder the one on the right howled. She was so confused that she did not know what to do.
The monster on the left spoke in a soft voice, “Trust me. I am not as ugly as that other monster, and I do not make those disgusting noises.” With that, the monster on the right screamed and gurgled and snorted and puffed even more. She began to take the path to the left, fearful even more that if she did not hurry, the other monster would chase after her and tear her to shreds.
A few hundred yards down the left path she looked back to see if the other monster was chasing her. It was still standing at the fork in the path, and it was screaming and howling more and more. But it was not chasing her, and then she stopped. The monster on the left path was walking a few steps ahead of her, and it just smiled at her, somewhat condescendingly, as if to say, “Don’t be a fool.”
And then something inside of her told her to go back and take the right path. The closer she came to the fork in the road, the faster she ran, until only seconds later, she was running down the right path and up into the mountains. She didn’t know why she had made this choice, but she just kept going. As the last bit of twilight drifted into the blackness of night, she looked down the mountainside from whence she had come, she could see the fork in the path, and she could see the path she had taken as well as the one that she almost took.
Then she heard a thundering, rumbling, smashing, crashing, crushing sound that came from the left side of the mountain. Straining to see in the near darkness, she saw a huge section of the mountain break loose and hurtle toward the left path below. Tons of rock and earth obliterated the left path at precisely the time that she would have been there, had she gone that way. She fell to the ground and cried, releasing all the anxiety and tension of the past few hours.
Then, just a few feet in front of her appeared the ugly monster who had been guarding the right path. She looked up and gazed into its eyes. It was not howling and grumbling at all. Its eyes seemed peaceful and deep. Its face had softened into a compassionate gaze. Without knowing why, the little girl jumped up and kissed the monster on the nose! The monster blushed, and smiled.
“My name is Fear,” said the monster, “and that other one’s name is Destruction. If you run away from me without listening to what I have to say, you might end up avoiding something that is important for you. But if you listen to me just right, and learn to make friends with me, then you will have Wisdom. As for the monster guarding the left path, no matter how attractive it seems on the surface, nothing good ever comes from Destruction.”
The little girl completed her journey. After visiting her grandparents, safely home in her own village, her parents noticed something very different about her. She was a young woman now, who had learned to make friends with her Fear, instead of being paralyzed or destroyed by it.
Just a reminder that the purpose of this discussion aims at stimulating thought and self awareness as tools to help those in recovery from trauma learn how to make safer choices. To make the discussion more jocular, we've defined Cognitive Biases as “CranioRectal Inversions” (CRI). Much more to follow!