“Normal”? Can Mice Teach Us Something?

by | Jul 15, 2020 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change | 2 comments

See below for an audio version of this reflection

No ordinary mice

First, these are no ordinary mice! They are the main characters in the short book Who Moved My Cheese? They lived on the NYT bestseller list for almost five years. They sold more than 26 million copies worldwide in 37 languages. Certainly one of the best-selling business books.

They must have known something we did not know!

“Who moved my Cheese” is a parable that describes how people face change.  It’s about 4 characters running around in a maze trying to locate their “cheese”.

Searching for “normal”

In this COVID world, “normal” is what is most important to everyone. But there are differences. Some people long to return to things the way they were. Others see the loss of “normal” as an opening to a new and better normal.

Right now, we are in a COVID maze and something has moved our “normal’. Regardless of how you define normal or what’s important to you today, these characters can still teach us much.

Cheese in the book is a metaphor for what important to us in life… normal. We pursue our cheese because we think it will make us happy and secure. The maze represents the place where we look for cheese… the workplace or community or the relationships we have.

Who are these wonder mice?

Sniff, Scurry, Hem, and Haw represent the simple and complex parts of ourselves.

  • Sniff represents someone who sniffs out change early.
  • Scurry represents someone who scurries into action.
  • Hem represents someone who fears and denies change.
  • Haw represents someone who learns to adapt in time when he sees change can lead to something better.

The story takes place in the maze of their lives where we search for and consume cheese. Cheese represents happiness or satisfaction in its various forms— for instance, security, prestige, or wealth.

Interested? …

I invite you to read this (3 minute) summary of the parable. It is an enjoyable read!

The story takes us into a maze. Four characters enjoying cheese – two mice Sniff and Scurry and two little people Hem and Haw. One day all the cheese disappears from their comfortable cheese station. We follow the four characters and how they react to this life-changing event.

Sniff and Scurry follow their instincts; they pay attention on a daily basis. They notice early when all the cheese has gone. With the cheese gone, they move on in the search of new cheese. Soon they find a new supply. They settle down to enjoy the cheese until it’s time to move again. They keep life simple and take action.

Hem and Haw have a much harder time recognizing the changes and when they do, they first don’t want to believe it. They complain that it is not fair, somebody should put the cheese back where it was. They are entitled to their cheese. Obviously, nothing happens without taking action. They get hungry and start feeling weak.

Eventually, Haw realizes that he has to take control and move to find some new cheese. It’s hard and the fear makes moving forward very difficult. However, he learns that when he laughs about his own silliness, then he pushes through the fear and keeps moving. He pictures his life having found the new cheese. He finds that he feels more energized, more positive, and much happier. He starts to enjoy the adventure.

Finally, he does find new cheese which is even better than he had imagined. This time he is careful not to get too comfortable. He pays attention to his environment. He is prepared for the next time he has to adapt to change again.


  • No matter how you define normal which character seems most like you? (Keep in mind we actually are each of these.)
  • What is stopping you from making your own cheese?

Click below for audio version of this reflection…

Can mice teach us something about “normal”


  1. Cathy Peterson

    I read this book a long time ago and really appreciate the reminder of the lessons it contained!

  2. Ross

    Hem strikes me as the most unrealistic. But I also doubt it very much that Sniff and Scurry can always keep life simple and just take action. Sooner or later I think, these two will run into very complicated things that they cannot simplify and undo because of forces beyond their strength.

    And Haw reminds me of St. Ignatius Loyola especially about feeling more energized, more positive, and much happier, and enjoying the adventure. Surely, we’ve all read the following about Ignatius:

    “When Ignatius reflected on worldly thoughts, he felt intense pleasure; but when he gave them up out of weariness, he felt dry and depressed. Yet when he thought of living the rigorous sort of life he knew the saints had lived, he not only experienced pleasure when he actually thought about it, but even after he dismissed these thoughts, he still experienced great joy. …. He used this experience as an illustration to explain the doctrine he taught his disciples on the discernment of spirits.”

    And of St. Vincent we read in J. Delarue:

    “Vincent always seemed to wait for events to speak before he began to move. Sometimes he made others impatient; Bourdoise … once called him spineless. Yet it was not merely human prudence but an attitude of faith which made him so careful. Before throwing himself into a task he wanted to be sure that God really want to make use of him to carry it out; … he had no desire to ‘encroach on Providence.’”

    I hope this is not too much of a stretch.

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