Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt like you were trapped in a cage, where you had limited maneuverability and were unable to escape? I think we have all felt like this at one time or another. It is my view that such situations feel like cages (and can be recognized as “cages”) because one dislikes the situation in which one finds oneself. Perhaps the “cage” is too small or is constructed from unappealing material. Perhaps the “cage” keeper is neglectful and you don’t get fed regularly or perhaps you are trapped inside with an unpleasant cage-mate. Whatever the reason, it is obvious that some situations become unpleasant “cages” from which you hope to be set free. What is not so obvious is that situations we seek out, enjoy and strive to preserve are no less “cages.” These situations are seldom seen as “cages” because they are willfully self-generated. Such “cages” may be constructed from the finest of materials, spacious, comfortable and intentionally entered, but they are “cages” none-the-less. They limit one’s arena of activity and determine one’s behavior.
This not-so-novel realization came upon me in full force this past weekend. I realized with a great deal of clarity just how much of a “cage” I had been building by pursing an academic career (you can read my laments about my failure to finish the “cage” here and here). An academic career did not appear to be a “cage” at the time I was joyfully pursing it, but I can now, in retrospect, see how such a career would have circumscribed my life. What is more, this realization was accompanied by an intense sense of freedom (more like euphoria) at the thought of being free to pursue avenues of interest and behavior that would never have been “permitted” had I completed my gilded “cage.”
So, the moral of the story is:
“Cages” can be unpleasant. Liberate yourself from them if you can. “Cages” can be pleasant. If you like your “cage” and want to remain in it, you might want to increase its size to allow more maneuverability. If you find that the “cage” you have been trying to build won’t stand, consider and rejoice in the freedom that you have.