Remember the story of Dumbo? It was an animated film by the Walt Disney Studios released in 1941. There are some pretty uncomfortable characterizations in it, which may be one reason it’s not a popular DVD redux feature.
But political incorrectness is not a point with any direction or consideration for our future lives. In the spirit of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, let me tell you the heart of the Dumbo story. It has a significant take-home message I believe we could all use.
Imagine a typical Disney story: A cuter than cute infant elephant is born to a circus-performing Mom. Mom adores her baby despite his fatal flaw – really ugly, gigantic ears.
Mom dies (tear jerker to be sure) leaving the baby an orphan with no means of support. He is forced to become a clown elephant, poor little guy. A helpful circus mouse points out that if he opened up his giant ears he could fly and perhaps become a big star. Dumbo, being no dummy, disagrees until the mouse says he’s got a magic feather. If Dumbo would just hold the magic feather in his trunk, open up his wings and jump off the high-dive platform, he would fly.
Desperate to get away from the creepy clowns, Dumbo gives the magic feather a go. He takes a leap of faith.
His big ears hold the air and off he goes flying all over the Big Top, strafing the clowns with popcorn! Dumbo becomes an instant star!
Weeks, months go by. Convinced that the magic feather is what keeps him afloat, Dumbo continues to fly. One fine day, flying along at cruising altitude, a strong wind whisks the feather out of his trunk. Horrified, Dumbo drops like a stone. The mouse, hitching a ride in his hat, screams at Dumbo that the feather was a trick, a ruse, a lie! He could fly without the feather!
Could this be true? At the last possible moment, just before he and the mouse would go splat all over the sidewalk, Dumbo opens up his giant ears and soars!
Recently I shared this story with a few clients. They were talking about people, places or things they felt they needed in their lives in order to function. Without these people, places, or things, my clients seemed convinced they were indigent, incomplete, incompetent, God-forsaken people. Their Dumbo feather might be a person close to them, a relative, a friend, or a spouse. Their relationships seem to begin as amiable, but slowly evolved to a kind of dependency. The Dumbo feather could be a job that keeps them feeling down, or a house with so much sentimental baggage they can’t let it go. Sometimes it is a friend or partner they had grown used to being made to feel small in the presence of.
What would happen if we let go of our Dumbo feather? That’s not to say we need to end certain relationships, although in some cases that might be the best thing. Usually it just means daring to make a decision without consulting with every important person in our lives first. It might mean beginning a job search, even exploring starting your own business, while holding onto the one that is needed to pay the bills. It might mean choosing to live alone and in so doing begin to lead our own lives for the very first time. Daring to imagine a successful life without clinging to our feather could be one of the bravest things we ever do.
Without our feather we can still fly, but only if we have faith that this is true.
Don Crowe, PhD