The Calf

My first well-remembered intentional use of the double bind occurred in early boyhood.

One winter day, with the weather below zero, my father led a calf out of the barn to the water trough. After the calf had satisfied its thirst, they turned back to the barn, but at the doorway the calf stubbornly braced its feet, and despite my father’s desperate pulling on the halter, he could not budge the animal.

I was outside playing in the snow and, observing the impasse, began laughing heartily. My father challenged me to pull the calf into the barn.

Recognizing the situation as one of unreasoning stubborn resistance on the part of the calf, I decided to let the calf have full opportunity to resist, since that was what it apparently wished to do. Accordingly I presented the calf with a double bind by seizing it by the tail and pulling it away from the barn, while my father continued to pull it inward.

The calf promptly chose to resist the weaker of the two forces and dragged me into the barn.

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