The Tao of Sloth and Manatee

In which we talk about forests and trees, and a friendship

I mean, sloths live in trees, so

Examples of Forest thinking might be getting a degree, or having a career, or maintaining a friendship. Tree thinking might be dealing with fixing a car, or going to a meeting, or going to class.

A tree thing would be somebody calling you and talking about themselves for half an hour and then hanging up without inquiring as to your well-being. A forest thing would be thinking, “that person sucks,” and considering the overall friendship as being kind of stinky. Or not a friendship at all.

Forest is holding down a job, Tree is showing up on time to your shift.

Tree is I really wanna go swimming, Forest is going swimming after you put the dishes away because you don’t want to come back to yucky dishes.

Like that.

When these two kinds of thinking are not working together, things go to a place I call, and this is a technical, term, poo-poo land.

Poo-poo land is when relationships blow up, people get angry or upset or frustrated, or ghost each other, or feel like you just don’t understand, or you don’t reach some goal, or things turn out not to be the way they seemed.

And so, these two types of thinking really really need each other.

Now, about Sloth and Manatee.

I’ve been drawing these fellows for a while now, and gotten to know them*. And I’ve realized, that they balance each other in a Forest/Tree way.

Like this:

Here Sloth has lost sight of the surroundings, and gotten all worked up about the missing piece. Manatee is just a bit farther away, and can see that the solution is right there, just out of Sloth’s sight. Sloth is wrapped up in Tree-land, and Manatee is going to help fix it by being a Forest.

Here’s another sequence, in which Sloth becomes very concerned about every individual hair and whether it is okay or taken care of:

Notice how Manatee helps Sloth think on the Sloth level, but then is patient while Sloth decides to read the hairs a story. That’s because Manatee knows that Sloth has a huge heart, and wants everything and everybody to be okay. Manatee also knows this is a very overwhelming way to be, worrying about details and then being stressed about how it all does or doesn’t fit together.

And so when Sloth starts to spin out, Manatee comes in with the Forest thinking, which is to remind Sloth that it is special to be a good Sloth and that Sloth is special for trying to be kind.

At this point Sloth is a bit burnt because of all that Tree thinking. Manatee kind of backs things out to the bigger Forest picture. Without Manatee, Sloth would go off into endless tangents and probably become Very Tired.

At the same time, Sloth is often the one who notices details, gets into new things and tries stuff, and gets Manatee involved:

In short, they need each other. And they are patient with each other.

We have to be patient with our own Forest and Tree thinking, and with other people too. So many conflicts happen when Forest and Trees are not in sync, or talking to each other, or when people only want to talk on one level and never visit the other one. That can be because of attention span, or life circumstances, or personality, or the type of brain you have, or many other reasons.

That can lead to a friendship falling apart because somebody doesn’t return phone calls, or a car falling apart because the oil doesn’t get changed. The details and the big picture create each other.

I’m not a psychologist or a therapist, I learn about myself and the world by making art and characters. It’s my way of thinking. But maybe this is helpful to you, or would help you have a conversation with somebody. Especially somebody who has a different kind of brain than you. There are a lot of types of brains.

*My characters are real to me.

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May you have a wonderful Forest and Tree relationship, may you reach your goals in life one day at a time, won’t you be my neighbor?


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