No one needs me to point out how difficult it is for people to get along these days. If you’re living in a cocoon you don’t notice it, but if you’re an active participant in life, which most of us are, then you can’t help but be conscious of it. Black people and white people don’t seem to get along any more. Christians and Muslims don’t get along. Democrats and Republicans don’t get along. The rich and poor don’t, the urbanites and the country folk don’t, and men and women don’t seem to get along too well these days either. What has happened to our species? It’s as if we’ve been infected by the notorious and deadly Me virus. Nothing matters but me; what I want, and what I believe. ‘I, Me, Mine’, as it were (a phrase that was coined by the late George Harrison in a song of the same name).
I was watching an Animal Planet program on television the other day. It was called, ‘The Worlds Oddest Animal Couples’. It was about different species of animals thriving together. Not just getting along with one another, but thriving. The emphasis of the show was that play seems to be the common element among divergent species, enabling them to overlook their natural inclination to fight with, kill, flee from, or just to simply avoid one another. Play was the magic potion, the primary ingredient. It is what enabled them to accept one another as friends, and as equals. It is what would break down the hard-wired instincts of fear, caution, or mistrust. The program illustrated the friendship and trust that one species would have for another even though, historically, they may have always been enemies; the predator and the prey.
Believe it or not the documentary highlighted the relationships between a group of wild polar bears and a pack of husky sled-dogs. Typically a polar bear would kill and eat a dog in a minute, and without even giving it a second thought. But this film showed them romping around together, wrestling, licking each other, and even cuddling. Absolutely remarkable. The show depicted a threesome also; a friendly and loving relationship between a black bear, a lion and a tiger. Even more remarkable. Never has there been a more unlikely relationship. There was a jaguar and a Jack Russell terrier, a lion and an impala, a chimp and a leopard, a Great Dane and a deer, a rhino and a sheep, a cat and a group of ducklings, a bulldog and a lion, a chimp and a hyena, a lion and an impala, and a rhino and a lamb.
Now, in the interest of accuracy I must point out that some of these animals had been raised together since they were pups or cubs. But many of them were not. The Great Dane and the fawn got together when the fawn wandered into the dogs yard. They became friends on their own, and remained friends throughout their lives, even sleeping and cuddling together. The bears and the dogs found each other on the Alaskan ice fields and became friends the same way. The polar bears were wild as the hair on my electrified head. The huskies were raised and trained as sled-dogs. Polar bears have always been their mortal enemies. Their newfound relationships were of nobody’s making but their own.
I don’t have the inclination to describe all of the relationships to you, only to say that if you get a chance to see this program be sure and take the time to enjoy it.
Play, being the primary element in the unique connection between the species, has caused me to look a little closer at group sports, the most obvious arena where adults play with each other regardless of their ethnicity, political persuasion or religion. And it seems to be one of the few places where people do seem to set aside differences and support one another. I can think back on many of the positive associations I’ve had with people who were not necessarily ‘like me’, and realize that it was usually around sports or music. Competing with or against one another, it just didn’t seem to matter. It was play. There was an acceptance, a mutual support, even a common sense of humor accompanying the playing of the game, or the music. We were playing together. Of course, some took things a little too seriously, but that was more about their own ego than any ethnic or cultural differences a player might have brought to the event. Play. That’s what it was. It was PLAY. Play is a good equalizer for people. It’s good for knocking down barriers, building friendships, and accepting differences regardless of previously held biases.
When one is habitually restricting themselves to their own familiar group, whether it be a church, a shared ethnicity, a shared political perspective, or a social commonality, it is very easy to cultivate, and engage in ‘Group Think’. Once cultivated it becomes very difficult to think for one’s self. Group Think is never a good thing to practice, and never a path to peace. It will most often result in further division, stunted growth, and personal unhappiness. I know that everyone is entitled to, and likes to be around, people with whom they are comfortable. There’s nothing the matter with that, but if we never stretch, or step outside of our own boundaries then it is foreseeable that the proverbial lion will, most assuredly, never be inclined to lay down with the lamb.
It’s incredible, the things we can learn from animals.
How about we focus on our similarities for a change, rather than our divergence?
How about a little more play with one another to help us forget about our friggin’ differences?
Have some fun with someone.
Playing together goes a long way.
You’ll see for yourself.