We have an invisible fence set up around our yard for our dog. To mark it, we’ve put up little white flags and taught her not to cross them. Since we live on a busy street, it’s doubly important that my dog understands and respects these boundaries.
Of course, she needs to get out of the yard a few times a day for her walks. Any time I walk her, the first thing I do is take off her Invisible Fence collar. This means she could easily cross the line without our help.
But, because she’s a dog and I want to keep things simple for her, I never walk her across the line. Instead, for each and every walk, I carry her across the line.
It’s quite a sight, me or a family member lifting up our long-legged, muscly, 55-pound dog to cross a line that won’t shock her because she’s not wearing her Invisible Fence collar.
The message: it’s only safe to cross the line when in our arms.
Now, my elaborate charade exists because she’s a dog and I can’t explain the whole fence / safety / car situation in another way that she can understand.
But charades exist all around us: elaborate dances designed to reinforce boundaries and to create the mirage that we must rely on certain people to cross them.
I’m confident that my charade is keeping my dog safe. And other charades may be equally well-intentioned.
But, most of the time, these rituals get so grooved that everyone involved forgets where and why they began, and loses sight of whether they’re real or imagined.
Often, the first step to breaking through is seeing clearly: we’re being kept in by story told by others, one that we’ve repeated to ourselves enough times that it’s indistinguishable from reality.