Yes, we CAN all get along.
A little more than 20 years ago, my wife and I made a three week trip to Zimbabwe in south-central Africa. This beautiful country is well-known for animal viewing.
In advance, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would likely encounter. Animals eating other animals. Vicious fights over carcasses. Massive birds competing to carry off small game. In the time I was there, I did indeed see the animals and birds, but from an entirely different perspective.
Here are three lessons I learned.
Working Together Beats Working Alone. A long time ago, zebras and wildebeests discovered that working together toward a common goal makes each of them stronger and more successful. In the case of these two distinctly different animals, their common goals are to find food and to break bread in a safe environment. Wildebeests love to eat short grass. Zebras prefer high grass. To fulfill their needs, these partners travel great distances for the privilege of dining together.
On the African plains, there is always greater safety in numbers. A handful of zebras serve as sentries on the fringe of these combined herds to warn of danger in the neighborhood. Scientists point out the superior eyesight of zebras combined with the wildebeests’ better sense of hearing helps keep both of them alert and thriving. When danger lurks, they work together to fend it off. They operate as a team. They trust each other. Their combined success is far greater than either could achieve alone. Although their physical appearance is totally different, they operate as one unit. If you’re looking for team-building role models, zebras and wildebeests fit the bill.
Good Things Happen In A Positive Environment. One night, we went to a popular watering hole – not the kind humans might stop into after a day at the office, but a real one that serves just water. As with their human counterparts, water is an animal’s most precious resource.
There were easily a couple hundred animals at this watering hole all at the same time. Big strong ones. Small vulnerable ones. The disparity was clear immediately. The big ones were fully capable of imposing their will. But, they didn’t. There was no fighting, no pushing and shoving, no meanness, no cutting in line, no raised voices. Absolutely none. Every single animal was respectful of the others. All any of them wanted was their fair share of water.
Mentoring Matters. At dusk on another day, we found ourselves deep into a valley where we came upon a community of baboons on their way home from work. But, their work wasn’t done. At least 100 of these large animals came in our direction down a path toward a grove of big trees where they would spend the night. They sleep high up in trees to avoid the ever present danger of leopards.
The adults had well-defined roles. Some were sentries stationed along the path to watch and warn of danger. Others guided the young ones to different trees and helped them get way up high and settled for the night. When that was accomplished, the sentries followed up the trees. The group was totally focused on a single goal – safety for its members. It soon became very quiet as another day at the office ended for the baboons. It was so well-organized. For their children, it was akin to a teaching moment. Everyone had a job to do. Seeing this would convince you that all the adult baboons had received mentoring. And, indeed they were passing on what they had been taught to do.
Pulling together as a team. Thriving in a positive environment. Showing the next generation how it should be done. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing? If the animals can do it well, we can, too.
When Los Angeles was burning a few years ago, Rodney King became famous for asking this question: Can’t we all just get along? I found the answer to his question in a most unlikely place – the heart of Africa.
We can learn a lot if we open our eyes and ears to the good and interesting things happening right in front of us. It’s indeed possible for all of us to just get along.
(This blog appeared in 2020 as a guest column in Crain’s Cleveland Business. DY the blogster will be back next Tuesday from Florida with new material. Have a great week everyone.)
DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.
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