Does A Zebra Have White Stripes or Black Stripes?

As usual, my children and my clients are my greatest teachers. As I was flitting around one morning, multitasking as usual, my daughter read me this poem about the zebra

My daughter and her self-esteem

“Zebra Question” by Shel Silverstein

I asked the zebra,

Are you black with white stripes?

Or white with black stripes?

And the zebra asked me,

Are you good with bad habits?

Or are you bad with good habits?

Are you noisy with quiet times?

Or are you quiet with noisy times?

Are you happy with some sad days?

Or are you sad with some happy days?

Are you neat with some sloppy ways?

Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?

And on and on and on and on

And on and on he went.

I’ll never ask a zebra

About stripes


Ask your zebra

Stunned by the complexities in this verse, I thought it couldn’t be just a child’s poem. Given the cleverness of Silverstein, I figure it is a commentary on dualistic thinking by pointing out that we are never one or the other of anything.

We are multi-storied as we can be both or more and it is always changing. This had me thinking…. the narrator who asks the question to the zebra is like us when we are not willing to see the bigger picture. When we hold on to duality, judgments and win-lose mentality, when we show preference for one of our stories over all the others. Then we define ourselves by that story. Are we this? Or: Are we that?

The narrator thinks the zebra doesn’t get it, but it is the narrator who doesn’t. The questions are ridiculous when pointed out this way, yet they are not dissimilar to questions that have us judging every part of our self through the day: “Am I worthy?”

Someone said to me once, “You are either right or you are happy.” The “right” this refers to is getting the judgments right. Who is to blame for what? Figuring out how and why a certain thing happened, and validating this with evidence. Getting the fear justified and the guilt assigned. While these things hold a truth status, it always equals misery in our very souls. While we believe we are right in this way, we can never be happy. Sometimes we stay in this unhappiness, just to be validated in our rightness.

What does it say?

When all the evidence says you are failing at life, “I am right, I am a loser”; you can feel validated in this and construct all kinds of stories about how right you are…… or you can be happy. I have personally been “right” so many times. And often it takes a slap in the face to realize how off track I am, how I was standing in guilt and fear rather than unconditional love and I held tightly to the truth of being right. I was misery with a capital M! I created the story of being a loser, by gathering evidence why it was so: failing my high expectations.

Conversely, holding myself in unconditional love, I would have nothing to judge, nothing to fear, (from me or anyone else). It is in this state that we can be happy. In this place we can find peace. (How do we do this? Read my next blog entry).

We don’t have to chose (or judge), and in the end we know that it is these questions and judgments that block us from the loving peace we seek. A world where we are connected to everything and all is well, no matter what. A world where we have peace of mind. We are all and everything at once.

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