The Little Red Ball

The simplest things often bring us the most joy, and contain the most important lessons. Like the little red ball. Before I explain why it has been such a source of inspiration, a brief description is in order. Slightly smaller than a tennis ball, it’s hollow and made of tough, springy rubber with hexagonal patterns. This makes it easy to grab and squeeze. It also has a large piece missing from one side which causes it to bounce unpredictably.

Leo, my dog, loves chasing and catching this little red ball, as do his friends in our local dog park. As soon as they see I’ve taken it out of my pocket, they stop their play, drop whatever is in their mouths and race over with that crazed, slightly cross-eyed look that dogs get when they fixate on something. If Maslow had created a Hierarchy of Needs for dogs, I reckon getting hold of the little red ball would be at the top.

Photo of Leo the dog with a red ball in his mouth.

It helps that I’ve developed a kicking style that makes it bounce like a football, with a nice balance of predictability and randomness. Most dogs in the park have a sense of fair play, so the dog that manages to grab it first has the right to do a lap of honour, chewing the ball and throwing its head from side to side, before bringing it back to me for the next kick off.

I’ve recently been thinking about why this little red ball is so popular with dogs, and whether there might be some lessons here for us humans. Here are four things I’ve observed.

Its character comes from its imperfection. The jagged hole in its side, resulting from the rough and tumble it has endured, is what makes the little red ball bounce in such a confident and characteristic manner. If applied to humans, we could call this being comfortable in one’s own skin. Each of us has a unique character that has been shaped from the knocks and scars of experience, and it’s the scar tissue around a healed wound that often makes it stronger. So let’s celebrate our rough edges and scars, remembering these are what make us unique, strong and interesting.

It harnesses the power of others. The little red ball has no power source of its own — it comes to life through the power of others. It is my kick that makes it fly. It is the grass that makes it bounce. And it is the dogs that carry it around the park. In a sense, the little red ball behaves like a facilitator. Great facilitators don’t project themselves onto others. They allow others to provide the energy and do the work, which is precisely why being part of a well facilitated group is so engaging and enjoyable!

It responds to your energy. Whatever you do to the little red ball, it responds with the same level of energy. Throw it vigorously against a wall, and it comes back at you vigorously. Bounce it gently and it bounces back gently. It behaves like a person with great communication skills who responds intelligently to the energy of others. Effective communicators understand that a fast-talking person likes to talk with someone who can keep up with them, and a quiet, calm person usually likes to have a quiet, calm conversation. Whether you are a ball or a person, adjusting your energy to suit the situation will always make you more pleasant to engage with.

It demonstrates resilience. The little red ball literally bounces back every time. While resilience is talked about a lot these days, it has always been one of the most important human qualities, enabling us to heal and recover from life’s inevitable adversities. If the little red ball could speak, it would probably say something like, “Why complain or resist? Accept what life throws you. Relax and flex a little to accommodate the situation. Then use the energy that’s available to bounce back.”

What would happen if we were more comfortable in our own skin, harnessed the power of others more, adjusted our energy to suit each situation, and relaxed a little more when life throws us a challenge? Maybe we could be as popular and resilient as that little red ball!

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