When Hugh Lofting wrote and illustrated his book “Dr. Doolittle” in 1920, it was derived from the creative letters he sent home while on the front lines during World War I.
His children thrilled to the good doctor’s ability to talk to the animals. Unlike other humans, Dr. Doolittle could interpret the animals’ languages and this gave him an advantage in treating their maladies.
Each letter brought about a new “chapter” for the kids, and soon Dr. Doolittle’s travels had him meeting and treating animals all over the world.
Often the imaginative animals he wrote about reflected emotions and feelings Lofting’s children were dealing with and, though miles away, he intended to remain a moral leader and generous father to his children by relating tales they could draw from to cope with growing up. His loving dedication to his family knew no barriers of geography.
One of the animals Lofting created and Doolittle encountered was the fascinating pushmi-pullyu , a llama-like animal with a head at either end; hence the “push me” and “pull you” derivation which, in modern terms, has come to mean something ambivalent, indecisive or even incoherent.
The pushmi-pullyu simply does not know which way to go. In order for part of him to go forward, the other half must go backward. Such is the dilemma of this well-intended but poorly equipped little fellow. Part of him wants to lead, yet one side must always relent.
As I reflect on my feelings about a lot of things as I age, the pushmi-pullyu effect seems to fit into a lot of places in my life.
Here’s a good example. I notice that young people today -- and this would include anyone under, say, 25 -- lack a real sense of urgency about things. They rarely worry or toil about the future or even their reputation. They tend to live in the moment instead of invest and plan for the future.
To some, this sort of carefree agenda is good; no stress, no heart attacks, no ulcers – simple pleasure-seeking only. But, without a little stress and worry about the future, what drives a person to improve, grow and push oneself? I am not sure.
So see? I engage the push me/pull you effect on so many levels. I am happy that young men and women are not as stressed out as I always felt as a future-seeking professional. Obsessive worrying really didn’t get me ahead or serve any constructive agenda.
However, I now fear that without any urgency in their worry-free agenda, many will sell themselves short by not using all the gifts they have been given. Nothing could be worse than a wasted mind or an untapped reserve of intellect, athletic ability or creative artistry.
Yet we are afraid to push or pull our children too much lest they recoil with the infamous “don’t tell me what to do …” So we deny the push and hold back the pull and let them find their own way.
But I can’t help but ask, “Why does anyone need so much rest and relaxation who has never been pushed very hard before?” They clearly don’t want to talk about it, do they? Maybe after the next commercial they’ll put the volume down and give us 60 seconds of explanation. The beat goes on and is running rampant, no rhythm at all.
In Washington, to tax or not to tax – that is the question.
To a young, unmarried couple considering whether or not to take their relationship to another level before marriage, to a man standing at the check-out counter who has just been given too much change from a clerk who has been conspicuously rude to him and doesn’t deserve the courtesy of his honesty, the push and the pull are with them all day long.
The lesson? I am afraid it is at best indirect. Like a disease that can be treated but not cured, the pushmi-pullyu will climb relentlessly in and out of your decision tree all the time.
Stepping in and telling others what to do is also a bad idea because, clearly, the victims are wrestling the indecisive beast within themselves already. So resisting the desire to advise engages the pushmi-pullyu all over again.
It is an endless circle without resolve, and when I find myself in situations like that I rely on one absolutely moralistic method of resolution: I draw on my education, intellect and years of experience … and I flip a coin.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.