The Story of the White Tiger Mohini: About Mental and Emotional Cages

What do you think about when you hear “white tiger”?  I think about beauty, power, freedom, ferocious and dangerous creatures.  When I find myself in front of such beauty and majesty, I am always astonished.  White tigers are indeed very rare, precious, and magnificent animals.

The story of the white tiger Mohini goes like this: in the 60s, President Eisenhower received as a present a white tiger named Mohini. It was sent to live in the Washington Zoo. Back then, the cages were 3×3 m and were made out of concrete and iron bars. People could see it always walking nervously, back and forth, year after year. The zoo had enough money for a new, much larger habitat for the tiger only when a sponsor finally decided it was worth the trouble and investment to end Mohini’s terrible predicament. The new area was around 5.000 sqm, it had hills, trees, water and an array of vegetation. Everybody was eager to see how Mohini will react to its new, big, and beautiful environment, so much so that even the press was invited to seize the joyful moments. Mohini entered its new reign, but alas, it looked for the far corner of the new abode where it started pacing back and forth on a 3×3 m area, and kept pacing until the grass disappeared. Mohini did this until its death.

The story of Mohini is deeply heart-breaking. A beautiful, magnificent creature that is conditioned to walk in a 3×3 m cage forever. Moreover, it is a very disturbing metaphor for those of us, people, who are not willing or able to break free from our imaginary cages. Unfortunately, many of us have the tendency to behave like Mohini, as if we were conditioned to constantly create invisible mental and emotional cages, limiting ourselves within the boundaries of the cage. Some of us do not see the cage itself, while some see it and come to love it because of the sense of safety it gives; the more familiar the cage, the more complacent we are inside it, unwilling to leave our comfort zone even for a fleeting moment.

I think this is one of the tragedies of our time. We have all that we need to create the life we dream of, but so many of us do not even try, because it is more convenient to live in the safety of the cage. We are wasting our human potential and our precious life time in imaginary, self-built cages.

What do we miss by staying in the cage? Most people miss the things they never did, the experiences they never had.

As a serial boundary breaker, I would have missed a world of opportunities that ultimately allowed me to live life to fullest. For me, breaking boundaries was always a conscious process – I knew exactly what I left behind, while I was never sure what was about to come. I was always attracted to the new and unknown. My first personal rebellion was leaving my country and moving to Germany. Then, I left behind a whole life, my entire support system, family, friends but I gained a new life and more opportunities to grow. My last boundary breaking act happened a year ago when I left a safe, albeit old style work environment to create my very own. It is a project I still work on, even so the process itself makes me happy.

How do you come out of the self-made cage? If you are willing to leave it, it is best. Easiest, when you have the motivation and the means. On the other hand, if the change is dictated by outside factors, when you are forced to do it, breaking free becomes difficult and painful, to the point where it does not feel anymore as freedom but as burden. This why change projects, personal or organizational, are so difficult and fail so often. But there are ways to master it.

What helps? Being curious is what helped me, I think. Being curious and having a huge thirst to learn, grow and succeed.

Did you ever break your boundaries? What helped you? I look forward to hearing your story. You can reach me at:

Keep growing,

PS: Sometimes work gives you great stories about life, like the one above, especially when you meet inspiring people at conferences. By courtesy of Andreas Gaertner from whom I have heard the story, and the Handelsblatt Fachmedien ex-collegues who organized the Change Congress in Berlin.