The tale of “Piglet Meets A Heffalump,” in Winnie-the-Pooh is replete with wisdom about human behavior, particularly in the face of our tendency to fear what we don’t recognize or understand and our desire to hold on to what we have out of fear of loss or a mindset based on scarcity.
I think some of our greatest insights can come from simple stories—like this one.
Here’s a recap, if you’ve forgotten the details:
Fear Of Being Clueless
The story begins with Christopher Robin announcing to Pooh and Piglet that he had seen a Heffalump.
Piglet allows that he thinks he may have seen a Heffalump once before, or maybe not. Pooh echoes Piglet and thus the charade begins.
With that casual exchange, we get our first lesson in human psychology: We don’t want to appear uninformed.
To remedy this perceived shortcoming, on the walk home Pooh announces he has “decided to catch a Heffalump.”
Piglet consents to assist in this endeavor and so Pooh and Piglet set about to devise a “cunning trap” to achieve their goal. (It should probably be pointed out that their planning process includes a goldmine of insights worthy of an entire blog post!)
Fear of Losing Our Stuff
(aka selfishness? scarcity mindset? you tell me)
The cunning trap depends on a “Jar of Honey” as bait so while Piglet digs the hole, Pooh sets off to his house to retrieve the honey from his pantry.
Being the conscientious Bear he is, Pooh decides that a he should sample the jar labeled “Hunny” to make sure that it is, in fact, filled with honey. After further confirming that the honey-like substance is not cheese-in-disguise, Pooh returns to the trap and to Piglet.
Pooh and Piglet place the now almost-empty honey pot in the trap and pledge to meet at 6 a.m. to retrieve the captive Heffalumps.
When Pooh visits his pantry for a midnight bit of honey, he discovers the cabinet is bare. He finally remembers that the Hunny Pot is in the Heffalump trap. In an attempt to fall asleep, Pooh commences to counting sheep. Then he tries counting Heffalumps. Nothing like a Heffalump to keep a silly old bear awake at night.
In a fit of misery as he imagined a Heffalump licking its jaws from the fine taste of his honey, Pooh dashes off to the trap at the Six Pine Trees and set about reclaiming his honey. Pooh wasn’t able to give up something small and temporary that he valued, even in the off-chance it might yield something even bigger.
Fear of the Unknown
In the meantime, Piglet wakes early and begins to fret about whether a Heffalump might be fierce, whether it might be fond of pigs, whether the Heffalump would be impressed that Piglet’s grandfather was called TRESPASSERS WILLIAM….you know. The usual fears that come up when we project into the future all the potential worse-case scenarios.
At first, Piglet gets some comfort knowing that he will be with Pooh (and two is always better than one) and that Heffalumps might be friendly with bears.
But then Piglet surmises that Heffalumps MIGHT be “Very Fierce With Pigs and Bears.” Oh my.
Piglet decides it might be best if he feigns a headache and stays in bed all day. But then the trap might be empty—and a beautiful day would be wasted. Perhaps a better strategy might be to take a sneak peak in the trap. If it’s empty, all is well. If there IS a Heffalump, Piglet can simply go back to bed and pretend he’s unwell.
I think this is what we humans call “hedging our bets.”
Piglet arrives at the trap, hears noise and decides he’s just quite brave enough to sneak a peak of the Heffalump before running home. Just at the moment when Piglet peaks over the edge, Pooh roars in anguish over having his head stuck inside the honey pot.
Piglet runs away, screaming in fear, without having actually ever LOOKED at the thing which he perceived to be so dangerous. If Piglet had only bothered to look, he would’ve seen that the “danger” was just his silly old bear friend with his head stuck in a honey pot.
How Many Heffalumps Do You Have?
We all have them—Heffalumps.
Imaginary fears that keep us up at night, that cause us to forgo opportunities, to cover our head and hide in bed (even if only metaphorically).
Heffalumps ARE fierce beasts. They beat us down. They convince us we’re not good enough or smart enough or committed enough or focused enough or strong enough.
Heffalumps will eat our honey and they will steal our lives.
Sometimes, like Piglet, we try to run away from Heffalumps, instead of confronting them.
And we know this. Even while we horde our empty honey jars, we keep feeding the Heffalumps
We hold onto our Heffalumps and nurture them. They become our companions. Heffalumps make us feel secure because we know them. Since they’re always hanging around, we make friends with them. And, like our real friends, we begin to trust our Heffalumps.
But Heffalumps aren’t looking out for our best interests. Heffalumps are selfish. They keep us awake at night. Heffalumps feast on our efforts and devour our dreams.
It’s time to stop feeding the Heffalumps.
And it’s time to throw out the empty honey jars that attract them.
How do you deal with Heffalumps? Do you tame them? Starve them? Share your thoughts and tips by leaving a comment below.