The Bison and the Cow

Group size:  Any

Purpose:  to explore how one deals with confrontation, stress, or any disturbance

Props Needed: 

  1. The Bison and The Cow story

Activity Preparation: 

  1. Prep time needed: 5 minutes
  2. The activity can be accomplished in any setting, individual or group setting.

Time needed: 

  • Directions: Facilitator will read script, or have a group member read the story.
  • Activity: 10 – 20 minutes, with discussion.
  • Debrief: 10 minutes; may be more with larger group size.


  • The activity can be accomplished in any setting: individual or group setting.
  • Participants may be seated in a classroom or gathered around in a circle

Activity Directions:

  • Have participants find a seat or gather together – they may be seated in classroom style or round circle group.
  • Explain the purpose of the activity
  • Read Facilitators Script – complete handout toward end of activity.

Facilitator script: “Let’s gather around. I would like to tell you the story of the cow and the bison. Now as you listen consider how you approach the storms in your life. For example, consider the Cow. When a storm is brewing, the cow’s strategy is to turn from it and run in the opposite direction. The cow is trying to get away from the storm as quickly as possible, trying to out run the storm. The longer it tries, and the closer the storm comes, the more the cow runs frantically to avoid it at all costs, running over anything in its way. As it runs it expends more energy running away, and gets more and more tired. Cows are not very fast. Trying to get away, they end up running with the storm as it catches up and overtakes the cow. The intention is to get away from the storm but the outcome is the cow spends most of his time in the storm.

Now, consider the Bison. The bison is used to living on the Great Plaines, used to storms coming up quickly. When the storm comes, the bison turns to face into the storm, heading straight into it so it can get through it. The bison is accepting of the changes in weather, and is steadfast in its purpose. It is strong, standing its ground and pressing forward. It knows that while there is a storm, it too will pass, and the more it leans into the storm the quicker it will go through it. The bison’s intention is to get through the storm and the outcome is just that.

Today we are going to discuss how we approach confrontation and disturbance. Take a minute to reflect on confrontation. What is the purpose? What might be going on when we are met with confrontation? (Give participants a little time to reflect on their response to confrontation or what they have observed in either self or others). It is usual for people to have fears, worries, or anxieties about what might happen in recovery. This discussion is about how we deal with those fears, worries or anxieties. Lets consider a storm that is on the horizon. When we see a weather storm coming, what do we see? (Give participants a chance to describe: dark clouds, rain, wind, weather changes, etc).

When confronted with challenges or storms, do you run away to seek shelter and get exhausted doing so, or do you lean in and remain steadfast, knowing you will find your say through it? Which are you more like: the Cow or the Bison?

Some would say that we are either about to enter a storm, are in the storm, or have just come through a storm. Life is not always easy. Problems and challenges will always come. Take time to complete your handout at this time.


  • What was your experience as you listened to the story?
  • What thoughts were you aware of?
  • Storms are inevitable. How do you approach a storm? Are you more like the Cow or the Bison?
  • If you are more like the Cow, what qualities do you have for dealing with a storm? How do these qualities help you or challenge you?
  • If you are more like the Bison, what qualities do you have for dealing with a storm? How do these qualities help you or challenge you?
  • If you are more like a Bison, in what specific challenges might you be more like a Cow?
  • If you are more like a Cow, in what specific challenges might you be more like a Bison?
  • Are there other ways to deal with a storm? How those ways help or challenge you?
  • What did you learn about one another?
  • What can you do to help others face a storm, or change their approach to their storm?


Recovery/Wellness Metaphor: Storms are part of life. It is in how we approach a storm that we learn more about our character or ability to weather the storm. When a storm or challenge comes, we can run from it – but eventually it will be something for us to deal with. If left undealt with, by avoiding or running, it may eventually become hurtful to us, or to others. While it may seem uncomfortable to approach a challenge head on, with plans and support, we can weather a storm in a way that we may get through it quicker than avoiding it.

Role of Facilitator: Take time to debrief the story with participants, helping them explore the different ways to confront a storm. You may explore with them how they see others as well as themselves in the process. Finally it may be helpful for them to look at the benefits and consequences of holding firm to their approach, if it is the Cow, and what steps they will take to be more like the Bison.

Variations: When exploring how to deal with confrontation or challenges through the metaphor of a storm, the facilitator can use an specific example to explore. For example, some may perceive one type of challenge difficult, for example, changing jobs; another may embrace the challenge. Using specific examples – vocation, education, relationships, medication compliance, physical health, emotional health, nutrition – and explore how the participants weather various storms.


Facing Challenges: The Bison versus Cow Approach


Bison – 


                What challenges am I most likely to face head on? 



                What challenges am I most likely to shy away from?





What do I need to get through my challenge like a Bison, quicker and in better shape that the Cow?