Biting the hand that feeds you

1. Introduction

Today’s offering is a thorough rewrite of a popular story I presented several years ago. Hopefully this story will give you a new way to look at building a relationship with people you find defensive.

I also want to take this time to remind you that I’ll be teaching a two day workshop in New York City on December 3rd and 4th. The title of the workshop is “Seishindo MindBody Medicine”.


2. Biting the hand that feeds you

Many years ago my parents gave me a parrot as a gift. The first thing I learned about parrots is that it hurts a lot when they bite you!

When I got my parrot I was living with my friend Reeves Teague. He had a “country boy” way of dealing with “critters” having grown up in the mountains of North Carolina. Here’s the process Reeves taught me for taming a wild animal.

1. Welcome and utilize the animals current behavior
At first the parrot only wants to bite you. It’s a natural act of self defense. So rather than trying to stop the parrot’s instinctual behavior, encourage and utilize it. Wear something protective on one finger, and extend this finger inviting the parrot to do as he likes.

Welcoming and utilizing the parrot’s current behavior even if it’s aggressive, is very much in the spirit of Aikido. Whether parrot or person, when you don’t act defensive and frightened, your counterpart will feel less defensive and frightened. Its fear that leads to the attack in the first place!

2. Accept the unwanted behavior while offering friendship
The parrot bites your right hand and as an act of friendship you kindly offer him a snack with your left hand. Your response will surprise and confuse him.

3. Encourage defensiveness and playfulness at the same time.
Leave your protected finger in the cage and encourage the parrot to really gnaw on it. After a short while he’ll start treating your finger more like a toy. Once he starts to act playful, offer him a snack with your other hand. Soon, he’ll come to expect and look for the snack. When you encourage defensiveness and playfulness at the same time, you begin to build a bond of friendship.

4. Blur the line between good and bad, trust and distrust.
When you reward the parrot’s “bad” behavior by feeding him, the difference between “good and bad” becomes less clear.

Once the parrot has shown a bit of playfulness, offer him the unprotected hand that’s been doing the feeding. Another way to say this is– Invite him to bite the hand that feeds him! This part of the process definitely takes some trust in the goodwill of the parrot, and on some level he will recognize this. Sensing your trust, he will begin to trust you in return. Sensing your trust, he will either not bite you, or he’ll only take a playful nip at your finger.

Now is the time to offer a snack with the hand he was previously biting. He’ll soon realize that both hands can offer him the food he desires. At this point your friendship with the parrot will deepen.

5. Change the reason for the reward.
After the parrot begins to change his behavior, only give a snack when he’s gentle and playful. Little by little you’ll be changing the reference behavior for getting the snack. Little by little the parrot will realize he only gets what he wants, when he treats you as a friend.

I’ve found this training method, to be the fastest, simplest, and most humane way to tame a parrot, and change the behavior of aggressive children and adults as well. If you’re not into buying a parrot, try it with a defensive person you’d like to have a better relationship with!

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