I think my favourite children’s book is actually “A Squash and A Squeeze” by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. There are thousands of great children’s books and I love many of them but this book is transformational.
The story starts with a little old woman who lives in a house on her own. She feels it is far too small, “a squash and a squeeze” and asks a wise old man for advice. Gradually in an engaging, sequential and rhyming story, she adds more and more animals to her cottage making it increasingly packed. Then comes the masterstroke. When she cries out in utter despair through a sea of quacks, moos, bleats and neighs, he suggests she removes the animals one by one until she is left by herself again. Overjoyed she declares, “There is no need to grumble and no need to grouse, There’s plenty of room in my house.”
It sometimes feels like I am the little old woman and my life is the house. And I know it definitely feels to me and others like I am grumbling and grousing on occasions. The question is: where am I in the story?
Sometimes I am actually at the start. I am grumbling and feel overwhelmed but I am really venting and perhaps even losing a sense of perspective. I have become too introspective, or narrow-minded. My feelings are dominating and I can see no way forward. I have lost perspective or allowed one thing to dominate my thinking so that I cannot see that this is not personal, permanent, or all-pervasive as psychologist Martin Seligman would suggest. At those times it is wise to stop and take advice. Sometimes it involves doing something else, even something additional. Helping others is always a great antidote to depression and despair. Empathy doesn’t just help the recipient. Whilst I would not counsel blindly adding additional responsibilities or burdens, the point is that it is good to be reminded that things can always be worse!
At other times, I am genuinely and more objectively in a house that is causing me to be “tearing my hair out and down on my knees, my house is a squash and a squeeze”. At those times we do need to remove areas from our lives. It is wise to occasionally review everything we are involved in and assess whether it is necessary, a joy and collectively too much. What is the ‘cow on the table’ of our life? What is the ‘goat nibbling away our tablecloth’ and our joy? We sometimes need help to make sense of complexity and choose wise decisions, removing things that we have become accustomed to but don’t serve us or others well.
One crucial skill in life is knowing where you are in the story and what to do about it. At the end of “A Squash and a Squeeze”, the old woman is in the same situation she is in at the start, but she sees it so completely differently and in a much more positive way.
We all need wise guides to help us regain a sense of perspective so that we can see our world in a more optimistic way.
Intrigued? You can watch the story read here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkdX73Onf04
CEO, LIFE Education Trust