Humans don’t hold the patent on meanness. Animals can be just as cruel. And depending on your view of evolution, maybe that’s where it originates. This morning I opened the barn door expecting to find a dead chicken and discovered that little Kernel (a pretty Buff Orpington who tends towards the broody side) was still hanging on. For reasons, unknown to us, the other chickens attacked and pecked out her eyes. I don’t lay very tall odds on a blind chicken. In order to survive, a chicken needs to be able to retain the whereabouts of her food and water. Sadly, this is beyond the capabilities of the average chicken. My daughter gently showed Kernel where to find her food and water and Kernel promptly forgot. (or maybe she’s just not interested)
Kernel’s plight saddens me, but what really breaks my heart are the endless stories of bullying and meanness amongst humans. We humans have brains. And we are capable of compassion, creativity, and logic. Why is it we don’t evolve any further along than my flock of chickens when it comes to how we treat each other?
There is no need to be mean. It does nothing but hurt the other person and poison your own heart. I believe it takes much more effort to be mean, than to be kind. When I hear my own children being cruel to each other, I admonish them that they are on the same team. They look at me, roll their eyes, but generally back off. Watching my youngest son’s game yesterday it was funny when three players wearing the same jerseys fought for a ball and ultimately knocked each other over, forfeiting the ball in the process. “You’re on the same team!” yelled a coach, shaking his head. Why is that so hard for us to grasp?
Just like the sports teams in the intramural league my kids play in, we are all thrown together pretty haphazardly from all walks of life. The only thing holding us together is the fact that we play for the same team. Humans have survived in a harsh world over time, not because we have brains, but because we have used those brains to cooperate and ban together. Without a community, no life would have taken hold in the original colonies. We need each other.
We have to believe we’re in the same herd. This morning when I was working my horse, I thought a lot about that idea. I learn much more from animals than books. This particular horse is a five-year-old sissy. He’s afraid to leave the other horses. He wants to be with his herd ALL the time. (Never mind that his “herd” are two geriatric ponies that avoid being within hoofshot of him) In the past month, I’ve been trying to convince this horse that we are a herd of two. I tell him this all the time, tapping him on the forehead and then tapping my heart, as I remind him, “You and me, we’re a herd of two.” I don’t really expect him to understand my words, but I think he senses my commitment. He’s learning that he is just fine when he’s with me, there’s really no reason to high-tail it for home simply because a branch cast a shadow or a squirrel shimmied up a tree. It’s not really that scary. Thankfully, he’s beginning to refrain from doing “stupid” things just because he’s scared without his herd.
I think we do lots of stupid things when we feel like we have lost our herd. Everyone wants to be a part of a herd. We may believe we are independent souls, but really we all want to be part of something. We don’t want to be alone. Even if our herd is just two. And once we find our herd, we consider others who are different, who are not a part of our herd, to be a threat. So we lash out. I think that’s one reason for unnecessary meanness. People are afraid of others who are not like them, who don’t belong to their herd. Somehow we need to begin to see that we’re all a part of the same herd. We play for the same team.
I think the other reason for meanness goes back to that old, wise adage – “monkey see, monkey do”. Truer words were never uttered. When we are children, we do the same thing that the other people in our “herd” do. If we hear adults pointing out another person’s differences, or complaining about others, we do it too. I think we as parents need to be incredibly careful when we talk about others, lest we set an example of judgment.
Children are watching us. They see the times when we are patient with the grumpy sales clerk, the inconsiderate neighbor, or the driver who forgets to signal. And they also watch when our frustration gets the best of us and we say or do things we shouldn’t. Monkey see, monkey do. If we go out of our way to be pleasant and kind, they will too. This sounds like a very simple, easy parenting philosophy, but I’m here to tell you, it ain’t. I growled at my youngest just this morning because he dawdled away the morning and never ate his breakfast. No big deal, but what am I teaching? I didn’t need to be mean, his stomach will point out his mistake by 10:00, no doubt.
And watching our talk about others is even harder. I recently found myself saying some pretty judgmental things about another adult, things that were completely subjective, and, in all honesty, unfair. My oldest son commented, “Wow, that’s pretty harsh.” Smack. I needed that smack to the heart. How do we learn to stop passing judgment? It is not possible to like, let alone, love, all the people in the herd that is our community. But we can be nice. We don’t need to be mean.
I don’t know that Kernel is going to make it. And I don’t know that we won’t lose the next weakest hen soon after. But they are only chickens (don’t tell my kids I said that) and they don’t know better. We do. We can choose to show how much we’ve evolved by watching what we say around our kids and demonstrating kindness at every opportunity. The anti-bullying curriculum the schools teach is great, but it doesn’t have a chance if children see a different message at home in their own herd.
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I'm a true believer in Living Intentionally. In fact, I wrote a book about it - Live Intentionally: 65 Challenges for a Healthier, Happier Life. I teach workshops on the topic and constantly seek to discover more ways to make every moment count.
I'm also a reluctantly busy mother of three remarkable children, one large partially-trained horse who seems to have a vested interest in unseating me, two bossy mares, an almost-daily changing number of chickens, one dog with impulse control issues but a sunny outlook, and 3 perfect kitties. I am blessed with an incredibly patient husband who can fix or build or tolerate almost anything. We live on 6 acres on a hillside in South Central Pennsylvania where anything left unattended ends up at the bottom in the creek (including the children).
I'm currently at work publishing a young adult novel (if you'd like to publish it, contact my agent Tina Schwartz at The Purcell Agency!!) and madly editing a memoir entitled, Cowboy Mom: How an Untrained Horse Taught Me to be a Better Parent and Person.
In my spare moments, I run, hike, cook, and drink much too much wine.