“Through loyalty to the past, our mind refuses to realize that tomorrow’s joy is possible only if today’s makes way for it; that each wave owes the beauty of its line only to the withdrawal of the preceding one.”–Andre Gide

Humans become easily ensnared in irrelevant and inauspicious dealings and worries. It takes a bit of mindfulness and willpower to learn how to disregard and deny extraneous affairs, distractions, and persons. Sometimes it’s simply wise to quit and consolidate one’s losses. To withdraw is one of life’s greatest skills.

I am reminded of the old self-help story about the monkey trap. Monkeys are agile, speedy, and greedy creatures. It’s practically impossible to catch a monkey by trying to chase or corral him. Supposedly, observant, inventive hunters in Africa figured out that the only way to catch a monkey was to devise a way to use the monkey’s greed to the hunter’s advantage and the monkey’s disadvantage.

The hunter takes a sturdy gourd and cuts a hole in it the same size as a monkey’s outstretched hand. The altered gourd is then fastened securely to a tree. The trap is baited with fruit or tempting nuts; then the hunter hides from view.

Eventually a monkey sees the gourd containing the food. The critter slips its hand through the hole and grasps the food. When the monkey tries to withdraw his fist, the creature realizes that it’s stuck. Regardless of how hard the monkey tries to pull its fist from the gourd, it remains jammed. The gourd’s opening is only wide enough for an open hand to move in and out, but it’s too narrow to accommodate a closed fist. The only way the monkey can free its hand is to let go of the bait. Even though the monkey could easily escape, the monkey’s greedy impulses overrule letting go of the food. The monkey hunter takes advantage of the monkey’s greed and state of distraction by creeping up on the creature and throwing a net over the monkey. Mission accomplished.

The moral of the story is that the monkey could have easily avoided capture simply by letting go of the bait and fleeing from the approaching hunter. In human terms, we cling to certain people, favorite things, and ideas we find agreeable, that if released, would improve our circumstances and enhance our lives.

A very serious example of the monkey trap was our recent crisis involving a powerful politician and his fan base who could not let go of the idea of winning the election prize. The desire for winning resulted in an attempted coup d’etat. The grievous scenario would have been avoided altogether if the politician would have admitted defeat when the facts proved his rival actually won. The fist that was clenched around the desire for continued power would not withdraw from the trap. The politician could have saved face by graciously conceding early on.

It is important for a person not to interfere with ethical processes. He or she should also see that others do not interfere with his or her own ethical behavior. We should avoid becoming obligated to others and having others become obligated to us. Aid to or from others should never be abused and such abuse should be thought of as a personal failing. Being careful to avoid the temptation to abuse trust and good faith goes far to increase goodwill and harmony for everyone concerned.

When we withdraw from situations that prove to be beyond our skills and capabilities or that violate laws and ethics, our reputations and good favor will remain intact. This is one of the most vital, basic practices of wise people.


The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a verse by the Ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. “To know yet to think that one does not know is best; Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Contemplation, Controversy, cultural highlights, philosophy, Politics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Withdrawing

  1. I agree. As Clint Eastwood said in one of his movies, “a man has to know his limitations.”

  2. Very well written! I love the analogy of the monkey in the trap with his hands around the prize.

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