There are certain things that are universal, seen in rich areas as much as poor, and in cities built on temperate soil as well as those that found themselves on top of mountains or seas of sand. There’s one very human pattern in particular that you’ve probably seen in your everyday life. You might even have chuckled to yourself as you’ve used them.
Here’s one example: Imagine you just got off work, and you stop by the local grocery store to pick up supplies for dinner. The last parking spot available is on the far end of the lot, and in front of it is a seemingly endless row of hedges on the little island dividing parking lanes. If it wasn’t for this silly vegetation you would have a clear line straight to the front door of the supermarket. You sigh, but quickly lift your head up to scan the row of plants and… voila! You see it! The tiniest of gaps, like a small gnome forced his way through the wall of plant matter. “A perfect fit,” you think to yourself. “How lucky this was here!”
You suck in your tummy as you shimmy your way through the bush, small twigs and leaves crunching as you work your way through. By the time you leave the store and someone takes your now-vacant parking spot, you’ve already blazed the small path just a little wider… making it even more appealing to the next person.
Within a few months or years, the small gap becomes a clear opening. A large, open door in the wall of green leaves and twigs. An invitation, if not a demand, to take the short way. After all, now there is the excuse that “a thousand other people have already done it.”
This is a human phenomena known as an “elephant path,” or areas that humans have tread so frequently with a common goal that they’ve subconsciously blazed a path through the Earth they walked on. A shortcut that thousands of strangers have unanimously chosen over the course intended by city designers and whoever it is that draws out the parking lot spaces. It’s a testament for both human laziness and ingenuity—but more than anything—a clear representation that no matter where you go in the world, all of our minds work the same exact way. We do love organization and neat orderly goals, but when we’re forced down a certain path we sometimes find it too tedious!
There’s a lesson in this. If even subtle psychological cues, like a tiny gap in a hedge or a trodded-down path in the grass, are so influential on our behaviors… then maybe that’s a testament to just how powerful temptations of all kinds are on our psyche.
New Directions for Women was founded by three women, Pam Wilder, Marion Schoen, and Muriel Zink, who all walked the same elephant path, a life of recovery from drug addiction and alcoholism. It was by fate that they discovered each other walking along this path. It was by seeing that others were struggling through the same difficult roads as themselves that they were able to create New Directions. This is part of the reason why, at New Directions, we strive to help our women correct the paths they take in life. Having seen others around them take to drugs or alcohol, many of our women have felt that this was the natural path for them. They’ve had the excuse that thousands of others before them already blazed the paths that lead into addiction.
But at New Directions, we show them another path. One that over 5,000 women have tread together. One where they can choose to walk beside their children as they master their own sobriety and learn to love themselves again. One where they can learn to appreciate the many wonders of the world that are really only there when you take the scenic route, and to develop the skills to conquer any challenge the world may present. As it says in page 164 of the Big Book, we trudge the road to happy destiny. Here, we can learn about beautiful things that can only be seen when you work hard and take the long, but necessary journeys in life instead of cutting corners.
It’s for this reason that New Directions puts ourselves right at the corner of these elephant paths. Because we were founded when three brave women paved the way for women who were lost on a treacherous path of addiction. Because we think it’s important to understand that so many thousands of others have had similar journeys as well, and that there are better roads to travel if you’re brave enough for the journey and have friends by your side.