Of feathers and flocks…


My best friend has chickens. Last week, the whole flock ganged up on the smallest hen, and beat her up pretty badly. They pulled out all her tail feathers with such force that chunks of flesh were gone, too. My friend took her to the vet and she’s going to be okay, but she won’t be able to be returned to the flock.

About the same time another friend told me that she had had to send her 14-year old daughter to a different school, because she was being bullied so badly by “the meanest group of 8th grade girls” this woman had ever encountered.

Even my two little cats – my sweet babies – are not immune. They’re only about a month apart in age, and I got them both as kittens, within a couple of months 6 years ago. The first kitten was an “only” for about a month before the second kitten came in to our lives, but that was long enough to feel threatened, I guess. She was merciless in her treatment of her new furry roommate. Now, 6 years later, the bullied kitten has become the bully. Payback? I have no idea. They’re both infinitely gentle with me, but they try to kill each other at least once a day.

Clearly this is a thing in all of our brains – not just human brains. We want to believe that babies (and kids and kittens and all creatures) are gentle by nature. Perhaps they are, but that’s not all there is to any of us, apparently. There is something so integral to creature brain structure that it spans all species and manifests in similar ways.

Perhaps it was a survival tactic that no longer serves us as humans living privileged lives, or chickens or cats, for that matter. Maybe it was beneficial to try to make the weakest member of the flock stronger by threatening it, or encouraging it to leave the group so it’s not longer a drain on resources, or even killing it to get rid of it and its genes so that only the fittest continue on.

It must have served some purpose, but like many residual brain things no longer necessary for modern life and survival, it doesn’t serve us. I don’t know, but I know I have a mean streak, and that at times in my life, I have treated weaker people badly. At the time I didn’t realize I was doing it, especially when I was a kid. I look back now, though, and I can see it pretty clearly. I wish I could say that I grew up and became an enlightened person who always reacts correctly to everything with kindness and wisdom.

Far from it, and still not true, even though that is exactly what I aspire to. Why not? Why can’t we all just get along and be nice and do the right thing all the time? All the religions tell us that’s what we should aspire to. All the self-help books, TV talk shows.

I used to have a poster that a friend gave me that said “If it feels good, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t.” I think in the 70s this is what passed for wisdom. 🙂 I think that poster pretty accurately sums up the way most humans live, including me. Maybe not the Dalai Lama, but the rest of us regular folks, just trying to get through the days.

What happens when you feel superior to someone, especially if you’re being cheered on in your thinking or your actions by other people? You feel better about yourself. You feel great! You feel special. All your doubts and fears about how horrible you are disappear in an instant. Who can resist that? It’s heady stuff, especially in a world where what we see on TV and in movies every minute of every day tells us – especially as women – that we are NOT okay as we are.

There is great comfort in thinking that you’re doing it right and others are wrong, and for some reason, it’s not enough to just think that, it’s necessary to prove it to other people – or chickens or cats – as well. And really, that’s the problem; making other people wrong in trying to make yourself right.

I think bullying in schools is one of the biggest problems we, as a society, face. It’s getting worse all the time, and real damage is being done to young creative minds. I think it’s all mixed up in the constantly rising level of addiction and mental illness in this country, cuz people feel so bad about themselves all the time – the bullies and the bulliedthat they have to find a way to escape the overwhelming anxiety.

But if it’s integral to our brains – a fundamental part of all life on this planet – what can we do? I don’t know. I don’t have answers. I wish I did. I’m part of the question, like most everyone else. I can’t fix myself, let alone all the problems in the world. I’m trying though.

Let it begin with me.

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