There is a second possible explanation: our image of lions may be more vivid than is the case with the images generated by other animals. We know how to make the imagined predator quite menacing, and we can flesh out this image—extending it far into the future and far out in physical space. We can readily imagine that the over-demanding Board of Directors will be around for many years to come. When we are stressed out or depressed, there is often a vision of the world never getting better than it is right now. We look far into the future and see nothing that seems positive for us.
We can also extend our imagination outward to a chain of events that could do us great damage. We can trace out the “real” and “possible” negative consequences of not submitting that overdue financial report. We can envision a world in which our competitor not only commands greater market share, but actually puts us out of business. We can even imagine ourselves not only yelling at the irate customer, who is becoming increasingly obnoxious, but also losing our job, house, and even family as a result of this one misjudgment. We are terrific at spinning out remarkable stories and can scare ourselves (and our bodies) to death with these stories.
There is a third possible reason why we as humans wound ourselves and get ulcers—and other animals with imagination do not. Other animals may have better ways of coping with the resulting stress. Obviously, some animals cope with imaginary threats by either seeking to fight against these threats or by running away from the imagined threats. They don’t just freeze in the face of the imagined threat. The fight and flight strategies mobilize the arousal system; the actual physical fleeing or fighting drain it off. Furthermore, in the case of the fight strategy, there is an immediate testing of the threat’s reality. If you begin to fight the imaginary lion, you are likely to discover very soon that it is imaginary. Conversely, if you either flee from or stand motionless in the face of the imaginary lion, you will never discover that it isn’t real.
There may be many other coping strategies that are successfully used by other animals. While no other animal, as far as we know, practices yoga, perhaps they can move into a state of consciousness that leads them out of the arousal state into a state of restful consciousness. Some animals might also be coping effectively in ways that resemble the successful coping of humans when they lived on the Savannah. They are engaged in physical activities that drain off the excess energy set in motion by the imagined lion. They live outside most of the time and thus benefit from the tranquilizing effects of the sunlight.
Even if these animals remain stressed for a brief period of time while imagining lions, they soon get some restorative sleep (having been physically active for an extended period of time or having moved into a yoga-type state of consciousness). By the way, we are not completely alone. Most of the other animals who get ulcers or other stress-related diseases (such as rodents and deer) tend to rely on this freezing strategy. Perhaps the Tin Man is human enough to emulate the ineffective response to stress. His armor is a tangible manifestation of the frozen condition.
Variations in Imagined Lions
There is another important set of lessons to be learned about human survival and the imaginary vision of lions on the Savannah. These lessons concern the differences among individual humans in the nature of imagined lions that they find to be stressful. All of us are stressed by the same things: we all find real lions to be stressful (if they are attacking us) and we all worry about our own death and the death of other people in our life whom we love. Yet, each of us also finds certain things to be more stressful than others.Download Article 1K Club