During the Industrial Revolution, humans found remarkable and cruel ways to use beasts of burden as cogs in their ever-increasing drive to do more. I don’t know if anyone, let alone an animal/horse lover like myself, could watch the movie Warhorse for example without tears, anger and crawling skin. Animals were used and thrown away without any regard for the awesome spirits they have.
I would argue that nowhere was this truer than the Donkeys that worked the Coal mines of Britain and America during the Mid-18th-20th Century. These “Pit Ponies” as they were known, worked day after day in the dankest of conditions with their miner companions, pulling coal out of the depths of the earth. In 1913 as an example, there were 70,000 ponies underground in Britain alone! They were worked so hard, and were treated so poorly, and did their job in such dangerous conditions, that in 1911 the estimated working life of many of these mules was 3 ½ years compared to 20 years on the surface.
“Now is the point where you are probably saying … why in the hell is he telling me this story”
I’ll get to the point. With how poorly these animals were treated, one day a week they were let out to eat grass and spend time above ground, in the sunshine and breathing the fresh air of their remote mines.
Now, don’t even begin to think that this had anything to do with some moral need for more humane treatment as the mine owners saw them simply as part of the machine. The Ponies respite was for completely pragmatic reasons! You see, if they did not get just a little bit of sunshine they would go blind in less than a month and become useless to their owners.
To ensure their continued productivity, the industrialists focused on profit, would force the mules to take a short period of rest from their mine life to reset their vision.
I cannot help but think about the parables of this in our modern-day life. With all the conveniences of our world today, the lines between work and personal time have gotten so blurred! I often feel like I am stuck in the mine, and am pushing myself to continue to engage hour after hour to ensure I am not “Put out to Pasture”.
I’m sure like many of you, I work for a global company and receive emails 24/7. My phone is a constant reminder that I am not able to keep up with all the things people need from me. By my choice, I fight the halter each week to be brought to the surface and enjoy the sunshine.
Recently, while on my honeymoon in Bora Bora, and I forced myself to delete or hide any app that would remind me of work, because I knew my muscle memory would force my finger to “check in” on work. Like the ponies, it was for completely pragmatic reasons. I knew that during that special time where my new wife and I were to take some time out of our crazy schedules to simply celebrate each other, she was not going to want to share me with my work!
After a few days of total anxiety and general discomfort, I felt my shoulders dropping, my mood lightening, and my imagination reengaging. I had cleared enough of the crap and transactional stuff out of my brain and allowed it to do what it was supposed to do … Dream, think without distraction, and explode with creativity, new or reinvented ideas, and new ways to solve old problems both in my work and personal life. In short,
I staved off the blindness that was coming in around me that I had not even realized I was forcing on myself.
So, what is the life lesson from this very dark “Pit Pony” period in our collective histories. Force yourself to disconnect from whatever makes your shoulders try to migrate to your earlobes. I promise whatever it is that causes that reaction will still be there after your time in the sunshine. And when you return to it, your brain will be ready to take it on.
Einstein said it best, “ It is impossible to solve a problem with the same frame of mind that created it.”
Let the sunshine on your face, the wind in your hair, and the grass beneath your hooves … Errr, I mean feet, and your “digital disconnection” from work be your respite …. and celebrate the clarity of vision!