Pioneer magazine

Mice and Men - Who moved my cheese?

This article will attempt to address facing change and the constant need for  it in our lives. I was prompted in this direction after reading a book called ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ which a friend had given to me. This little book, which, for most people, takes probably less than an hour to read, is credited with having changed many people’s lives – among them leading broadcasters and others very successful in their careers.

In this book, ‘cheese’ is a metaphor for happiness or even joy of living. It could be happiness in our family life, job, social circles, politics or in our spiritual life – indeed, in whatever sphere of our lives is most important to us. There are four characters – little characters, two of them mice and two of them little people. The mice are called Sniff and Scurry – obvious enough given the character of mice. And the two little people are called Hem and Haw – names that I hadn’t realized are so appropriate for the vast majority of people – including, according to the postscripts to the book, those who have been very successful in their careers. The author brilliantly describes the two little people as being as small as the mice, so that one could be forgiven for not noticing what they were doing! Probably an indication why so many confused people can still look confident!

The story takes place in a maze, which is a labyrinth of corridors and chambers and blind alleys, really depicting the places where we go looking for happiness. At the beginning of the story, they all set out every day to look for their own special cheese, and eventually successfully find it. Sniff and Scurry’s approach is straightforward – they know exactly what they are looking for – they fail in one alley so they look in another. For Hem and Haw, their complex brains have them developing more sophisticated methods of finding Cheese (theirs is ‘with a capital’C!) When they would find it they would take full possession of it – for their use alone!

Despite the differences in how they look for the cheese, when they find it, there is little difference to their reaction and behavioural pattern. They settle down nicely, Hem and Haw even move home to be closer to the cheese and build up a whole social life around it. Their possession of the cheese gives them a great sense of comfort and control – they can invite friends around and with them build up a whole social philosophy around the cheese. They begin to decorate their walls with pictures of the cheese and
signs that ‘cheese makes you happy’. They even develop a serious sense of arrogance, and in all this comfort, they failed to notice what was happening. Once they discovered the cheese was finished, they were furious. Johnson, the author describes the situation “What, no Cheese?” Hem yelled. He continued yelling, “No Cheese? No Cheese?” as though if he shouted loud enough someone would put it back......Finally..... he screamed at the top of his voice “It’s not fair!”

(This puts me in mind so much of the denial that the Celtic tiger has died! We seem to think that if we proclaim often enough and loud enough that ‘green shoots’ are appearing, then our ‘cheese’ will reappear!)

Hem and Haw engage for some time in anger, despair and paralysing analysis, and like many of our Celtic tiger cubs refuse to accept the situation. Haw, who helped himself by envisioning Sniff and Scurry enjoying new cheese, was for some time drawn back down into despair by Hem who kept ‘hemming’ himself in with fear and despair. Eventually Haw got courage, and a sense of humour about his own importance and declared “Haw, haw, look at us. We keep doing the same things over and over again and wonder why things don’t get better”, and the story continues ‘But he had to laugh at his folly when he saw what FEAR was doing to him’

Very soon Haw picks up just enough courage to start to move on. The rest of the story is about Haw’s journey to find new cheese and his reflections along the way. Just as from the start of his journey, it was visions of a better life and hope that propelled him. He kept drawing pieces of cheese (happiness) on the walls along the way with affirmations written within them. The main purpose of these was to help his friend Hem, whom he hoped would be following behind. However, he also found that these were a great help to himself. At one stage he asks himself “Why do I feel so good? I don’t have any Cheese and I don’t know where I am going” and then he stopped to write on the wall, WHEN YOU STOP BEING AFRAID, YOU FEEL GOOD!

Through the energy on his now less fear-filled journey, Haw continues on ‘with greater strength and speed’, and eventually finds new cheese. He is delighted and, of course, thinks about his friend Haw. He concludes, as he had written on the wall OLD BELIEFS DO NOT LEAD YOU TO NEW CHEESE, Hem was stuck in his old fearful beliefs and could not progress.

Many of Pioneer readers have probably already read this little book. It is now ten years since it was first published and has sold millions of copies. However, I thought it might be refreshing to look at it again in light of our present circumstances and to see how acutely pertinent it is to the Ireland of today.

Beware of Complacency

If we are to have life ‘and have it to the full’ there is a constant need to be vigilant to the dangers of the complacency of settling into the world’s values. It must be extremely difficult for those who were accustomed to material and financial stability to readjust. Such a position contains a great deal of real and potential power, and to recover from a fall from that requires all the faith that we can muster. The fact that thousands are facing the same dilemma of new beginnings does not necessarily make it any easier. What can make it easier however is the knowledge that it has been done before. ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’. While this is not to be taken quite literally, it does give us an indication of acknowledgement in the Bible of how far we can be removed from our dependence on God when we are financially comfortable. It takes a lot of grace to be continuously cognisant of the source of our wealth. When we fall from that position of comfort and related power, we have to look for new ways to identify ourselves (new ways and places to find our cheese!)

Some also through the merry-goround of new-found wealth would have led very degenerate lives, but in
Hebrews 11 we read how ‘Rehab the harlot’ (the prostitute who hid Joshua’s spies in her home) is listed as a member of the Faith Hall of Fame! Through faith, Rehab was able to push past her negative life-style and did not allow her past to rob her of a new beginning.


Some are already recognising the wonderful opportunity we now have, not only in Ireland but worldwide, to return to REAL values. One of those is the strength/value we gain through trying to help each other. In the ‘Cheese’ story, Haw was not able to help his friend Hem, but by writing out messages to help his friend he was affirming the message of hope and
power for himself.

Comfort zone of religious practice
The main theme of the Cheese story is the need to change! Many of us have been caught up in the same religious practice for years, and without us noticing, it has slowly but surely become mere ritual, devoid of any spiritual energy. We have also taken very much for granted the availability of priests among us. And like the Celtic tiger cubs in denial about the fall of rampant capitalism, many of us are in denial of the inevitable changes which will be effected by the shortage of priests. So there is need for us, the laity, to take very definite note of the change, to have the courage to take more responsibility in keeping faith alive in ourselves and in our communities. Again it’s a question of finding a new identity. It’s time for us to get the courage to return to the source – the Bible – and build the confidence to keep the Church alive by becoming evangelists ourselves.

Who Moved My Cheese can, indeed, be life-changing, as claimed by many. However, I believe, as probably does its author, that without the help of the Holy Spirit, little change can take place!