Coffee with Mimi: We are more than squirrels

Published 6:42 am Saturday, September 15, 2018


Contributing columnist

There is an ad running on TV right now for an insurance product. The little story portrays an attractive young couple in a car, stopped by one of those human-operated traffic signs in a small construction zone.

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The woman is engaged in a search on her electronic device, focused on the various options offered for what appears to be a needed change in insurance coverage. But his thoughts are engaged in whatever strikes his fancy, as he observes what is going on outside the car window while waiting very patiently for the traffic sign to be rotated off STOP.

Time is important in the advertising world so, in seconds, the man delivers a line which is designed to identify the characters as just people, not actors. He wonders, not out loud, why squirrels run back and forth. He advises them to just pick a direction and go that way. At that precise moment, the sign person turns the pole, the driver pulls the car around the obstacle and the couple declares at the exact same time that they should switch to the new insurance carrier. 

I think it is a great 30 seconds. We are reassured there are choices available, we can solve our problems cordially, people are nice about short delays, there are different paths to the same conclusion, it is cool to follow the rules and be civil about it. 

My mind is also tickled with some human truisms exhibited by squirrel behaviors. Perhaps I am reading too much into the script, but how much time do humans spend running back and forth without picking a direction and going there? Wouldn’t you think the squirrels, and people, would get tired and give up? Is behavior always so predictable? Do others (advertising gurus, etc.), know more about what we need than we do?

In the commercial, we don’t actually see the squirrel but we know exactly what it is doing. We know the squirrel is running furiously. He will stop abruptly, sniff, quickly look inquisitively side-to- side, turn 180 degrees and, without pause, dart off. 

He doesn’t travel far before the little scene repeats itself. Eventually he makes a different decision. There is a tree off to the side of the path he has been wearing out, and that is a pretty good option in squirrel world. 

I could get caught up in multiple squirrel behavior metaphors. Squirrels hide their food in preparation for the future and then lose track of the stash. This we know because we will find random nuts tucked away in the spring. Some squirrels think they want to engage with humans, will approach, but after consideration, will run in the opposite direction, and so forth.

I have no idea what the lifespan of a squirrel is, whether the squirrels in the yard are young, or they are not. Every squirrel in my yard behaves about the same and at the same rate. If squirrels live their entire lives at this pace, how does it end? Is there a cozy tree stump somewhere which provides comfort and a safe place for squirrel rest and relaxation in  retirement? Or, is the squirrel’s behavior all there is right up to the end?

Before jumping to conclusions about this contemplation of squirrel life relative to human life, let me assure you I don’t have a definitive answer. It is considered an admirable trait, and demonstrably productive, to thoroughly explore, evaluate and reconsider past options, their consequences and new options before making a change. Making quick checks to either side of the position before returning to the point of origin makes sense. Repeating the process over time is not a negative, but a reasoned one.

Squirrels live on a predictable timeline. Stockpile food when it is available, hunker down in the den with friends when it is cold. In the human world, there are a few more life decisions on the timeline — go to college or work after high school, get the job after college graduation, get married, move, change jobs, have children, retire. In between, we run back and forth.

In our world, events occur which offer us a desirable, and needed, opportunity to consider a different direction. Maybe it is the desire to be a risk-taker, or just be different for no apparent reason or a change is motivated by unforeseen outside factors. 

We are more than squirrels. Yes, we seek to survive, but we know it is more than the satisfaction of basic needs such as food, shelter and safety.

Thankfully, we humans know that survival is so much better than that — it is creative, isn’t tied to a set timeline or path, and we can enjoy random opportunities for just that. But, it is definitely OK and healthy to hunker down in the den with friends when it is cold.