Monday, July 11, 2011

Another lesson from the geese

I've written here before about how geese handle their aggression in sensible ways. They provide lessons for humans who, as a species, do not handle aggression well at all. I saw one of these lessons unfold the other day.

There was Milo, the male leader of the flock, chasing a goose and biting its tail feathers (and the rear end itself). I've seen them do this countless times but this time seemed different, more intense. By the time I caught wind of it, Milo was already on the tail end (no pun intended) of his rampage. What I saw was a goose's rear end, sticking out of the bushes on the edge of the property. Milo was biting that rear end and honking at him/her fiercely.

All the while, the goose lay perfectly still. I thought maybe Milo had killed it and I was horrified, but then I noticed that the geese weren't bothered at all. It was a very different response than the one I saw when one of their babies was killed. The flock was totally cool with this event so I returned to what I was doing, which was sitting on the steps and hanging out with them. I like these guys.

Later on, I checked the goose in the bushes. Its body and tail end had not moved, but now its neck was giving its head a tour of the nearby leaves, eating this and that green delicacy. The goose remained like this for a very long time.

It was obvious that it was playing dead to resolve a difference between it and Milo. What a sensible routine! Milo got his aggressive rocks off by chasing and biting tail feathers. And the "victim" paid homage to Milo by making believe s/he was dead for a time. Then, all debts paid and emotional balance restored, the goose came out of the bushes and normal flock activities resumed.

Why can't humans deal with their aggressions in similarly sensible ways? These geese -- and other animals -- are teaching us important lessons but we're not paying attention. I urge everyone to read Konrad Lorentz's wise book, "On Aggression". It should be required reading in our insanely violent world. There are countless ways to deal with aggression -- and war doesn't have to be on the menu.