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A Choice Between Safety and Survival

A very small, very cute, elephant shrew.
A very small, very cute elephant shrew. (Image courtesy of

Last night I started watching a new BBC series called “Hidden Kingdoms.”

In this series, little wild beings like mice and beetles get their 15 minutes of fame as the camera takes a look at what it is like to be tiny and totally on your own in the wild world.

For instance, if you are a sengi, or elephant shrew, and you are not even as big as one toenail on the giant creature you are named after, how do you cope when that same giant creature lumbers by and obliterates the trail-based safety system you worked on all morning (and your whole life, really)?

If you are a sengi, you rebuild the trails, of course.

But then what if lightening strikes in the African desert right near your trail system and you have to run for your life?

What then?

The answer is surprisingly unpleasant…for both the sengi and BBC’s viewers. 

It seems the sengi are so dependent on their trail system for survival they have no concept of survival without it. In other words, when fire comes, the sengi will stay with their trails right to the bitter end.

Watching the sengi racing up and down, back and forth, again and again and again, as the flames drew closer and the trails got ever shorter, reminded me of certain points in my own life.

It especially reminded me of times during some of my fiercest battles for recovery.

For me, recovery was a lot like climbing a lot of little steps between these vast, flat, wide plateaus.

For awhile I would climb, climb, climb, and as I climbed I would create a system of sorts for climbing in the most efficient and effective way possible.

I would get very proud of this system, congratulating myself on how well I was climbing and how effective my system was.

And then I would reach the next flat, wide plateau.

At that point, I had to decide whether to stick with my system (the system I was oh-so-proud of that had worked oh-so-well for that last set of steps) or move forward.

My choice here was definitely either/or, because my system would not work for the next set of steps.

Sometimes I would choose to move forward.

And sometimes, like the fire-besieged sengi, I would instead retreat to the beginning of the previous staircase and start again, so confident my system would protect me I would stay stuck rather than abandon it.

Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever found yourself in a situation similar to the elephant shrew, where you had to choose between a system you trusted and saving your own life (or the life of someone you cared about)? How did you decide what to do?


A Choice Between Safety and Survival

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2020). A Choice Between Safety and Survival. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Mar 2020
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