November 30

A Chicken with No Head

November 30, 2016

Personal Growth

For many years I was a Boy Scout leader, specifically working with Varsity Scouts, ages 14-15. I intended to provide them with a large variety of unusually challenging experiences that would build their confidence: rappelling, canoeing in white water rapids, exploring in caves, woodcraft, service, and more. One of our activities was to require the boys to provide for themselves the food they usually bought in the store, including the catching and cleaning of animals.

The boys were fascinated at the idea of killing a chicken and cleaning it in preparation for eating. They had never done this, so they were surprised when I killed the first bird. I cut off its head, and when I released my hold on the body, the bird leapt to its feet and ran around the yard for several seconds.

The boys were both horrified and laughing, not sure how to respond to this unusual event. On many occasions it has occurred to me that people run about like chickens with no heads. They run fast. They appear to be quite alive and active, but they go nowhere that brings them the results they really want.

I talked with Max one day, a man frenetically busy in life but quite unhappy at his lack of meaningful direction. “If you’d like to slow down for a bit,” I suggested, “perhaps I could help you reattach your head to your body.”

Of course he asked what I meant, and I compared him to my experiences with headless chickens. In this world we have been taught to look “busy.” It make us feel purposeful and important. People talk about it all the time when asked how they’re doing:
“Oh, I’m okay, but I’m so busy.”
“I’d like to help, but I’m just too busy.”
“I’m exhausted. My day is just filled with activity from morning to night.”
“I’m going as fast as I can.”

On occasion, when people offer that they’re “so busy,” I ask them, “Busy going where exactly? I’m sure you fill your day with activity—we all fill our day completely with something—but simply busyness doesn’t mean much. If you’re climbing a mountain with all your strength and skills, but it’s the wrong mountain, what’s the use? If you’re running around like a chicken with no head, wouldn’t it be wise to consider stopping while somebody helped you put your head back on, so at least you could see what you were doing?”

The world is filled with things to do. The Internet alone could occupy you with doing nothing useful for the rest of your life. We can choose to mindlessly follow the many possible distractions—with no head, so to speak—or we could choose to learn what really matters and consciously pursue a course with our eyes and head fully engaged.

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