While watching the drama of Hurricane Irene unfold as she made her way up the east coast of North America, I was impressed by the good humour, co-operation, camaraderie, and overall humanity of the folks who reside in the path of the storm front. The media did a great job of televising scenes of people working together, boarding up buildings and doing whatever they could to make certain that everyone in their respective communities was safe.
Tragedy and impending danger tend to bring people together in a universal environment of compassion, charity and civility that is often absent when things are good.
When widespread, collective problems or fears abate, most of us return to our usual human pattern of competition, aggression, avoidance, and intolerance of others.During a hurricane, a war, a flood or an earthquake the love of mankind and our need to aid and nurture each and every person threatened by a common disaster becomes a singular, communal driving force.
Why can people not consistently maintain and exhibit the natural tribal loyalty and altruism that is innate in all of us?
Human beings are essentially pack animals, which helps to explain why we live in cities and work in huge buildings together. Pack animals know that survival depends on the power that is created when of a number of members of the species live, hunt, share and work together in harmony. Of course our pack-communities are what we know as countries, cities, neighbourhoods and companies, but they represent essentially the same patterns and hierarchies that we can observe in nature.
The wolf-pack is perhaps the most popular non-human example of an effective tribal cooperative.
In the wolf community a leader is selected when he shows superiority over any weaker males who dare to take him on in an all-out fight. In the human community we occasionally have dog-fights to select our leaders, but most often we have a democratic election process where a superior leader is chosen from a slate of qualified candidates.
Whether wolf-pack or human-pack, the hierarchical process is the same: The leader makes decisions for the pack and the followers carry out the work required to maintain the security and integrity of the commune. In both cases, leaders who under-perform can be removed and replaced at almost any time. In case of wolves and humans, replacing a leader usually requires another fight for superiority.
The major difference between wolves and humans is that wolves have almost complete respect and admiration for their leaders while humans often disregard them or resent them to the core.
Getting back to Hurricane Irene; it seems that human beings quite naturally and unavoidably fall back on their primordial instincts when danger threatens the pack. At that point, gone is ego and selfishness; gone is arrogance and superiority; gone is competition and intolerance. In the face of peril, the negative elements of human interaction are quickly replaced by the positive elements of the pack-animal system. Cooperation, collaboration, nurturing and protective instincts flood the minds of the victims, leading them to unusual and amazing acts of courage and kindness.When danger threatens, people become almost universally good again. They become akin to the wolves that will fight to the death as a group to protect all members of the pack.
When people work together during an impending or actual disaster to protect, save, nurture, and help one another it is a truly wonderful thing to see.
When human beings are not threatened and the usual human vices of egotism, greed, guile, selfishness and rudeness return to the fore, our species takes on an unpleasant air that most of the members of our pack find intolerable. We often hate what we see in the human race, but as the Bible says in John 8:7, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Ask yourself if you have been guilty of being human lately.
If you answer, “NO”, I think you might need to take stock of the human vices that we have all learned to recognize and acknowledge as unacceptable behaviour in the new millennium.
Most of us make excuses for our vices and sins. We are constantly casting stones at others because they did something to us first.
We believe that a first strike at our integrity, dignity or ego is a perfect reason for us to retaliate in kind, or with even greater force.
All over the world today, fingers are being raised to errant motorists and foul language is being used to upset timid sales clerks. Husbands are yelling at wives and wives are hollering at daughters and sons. Every day, neighbours silently hate neighbours and employees and bosses hate each other collectively. Conversely, in the wolf-packs of the world, there might be a fight for superiority going on somewhere but more often than not if you find a pack of wolves you will find them living, hunting and sharing together in harmony. They know instinctively that they must work together to assure the survival of their community.
Why can’t people be more like wolves?
Let’s not wait for the next disaster before we begin caring for the other human beings on earth again. Let’s start now!