Evolving beyond ‘pack animals’ (part one)

We are in the process of integrating a six-month-old English Springer Spaniel named Micah into our family. We also have a six-year-old English Springer Spaniel named Isaiah. Isaiah spent the first six years of his life in our family with our older Sheltie (Mocha) who passed away shortly before we adopted the new puppy.

Shelties are work dogs. They instinctively herd other animals, so Mocha felt his job was to shepherd Isaiah. English Springer Spaniels (ESS) love to run freely, so the two worked out their respective household (or pack) roles. Mocha’s job was to keep Isaiah out of trouble. Whether they were on leash or off leash, Isaiah was always a step ahead of Mocha.

Mocha and Isaiah were devoted and faithful companions to each other, and to my husband and I. We often care for other family dogs managing up to five dogs at a time. There were minor conflicts between the dogs over toys, but generally they established their own roles and responsibilities, and pecking order.

We thought bringing home a new puppy of the same breed as Isaiah would help Isaiah because he was grieving the absence of his buddy, Mocha. We chose another ESS because we thought they would love to do most of the same things; run, swim, chase balls, go for walks.

Micah joins our family

Micah joins our family

I failed to understand that dogs are still instinctively hierarchical pack animals. Mocha exerted ‘authority’ over Isaiah when he was a young puppy, and then he let Isaiah develop as a ‘peer’ in the pack. When we brought a puppy home, Isaiah exhibited aggressive behavior towards Micah. I reacted as though aggression was unacceptable. I just thought they ought to be friends and play cooperatively, including sharing toys and sharing our attention. The pressure built up and within three days Isaiah attacked Micah and bit him hard enough to draw a tiny bit of blood.

Shocked and very concerned that we had made a huge mistake adopting Micah, I began to research ‘problem’ dogs. Although there is a great deal of conflicting information online about dog training, I found a book that made sense to me, The Dog Listener. The author, Jan Fennel, raises English Springer Spaniels (among many other breeds). Fennel refreshed my memory; dogs are pack animals. More important, dog packs are hierarchies. At the top of the dog hierarchy there are alpha leaders (one male, one female) with other levels of leadership for pack members. The pack survives or thrives because dogs know their role and responsibility within the pyramid.

Given my passion for non-hierarchical styles of leadership, I wanted to resist the book’s recommendation that I assert myself as the pack leader. However, when I did assert stronger leadership, I found that Isaiah and Micah became calmer and less aggressive. I also learned to acknowledge Isaiah as the ‘big’ dog and acknowledge his authority over the younger Micah. Things are going much better now.

IMG_2437Since I read the first few chapters of The Dog Listener, I have been pondering dog and human evolution. Even though I am convinced that human beings have evolved to the degree that many of us crave partnership and egalitarian organizational forms, prehistoric humans were pack animals. The bond between early humans and their dogs is older than religion or civil society and it originated because humans became beneficial alpha leaders for dogs. Dogs were better off working for packs of people than just hunting on their own.

Do human beings still need hierarchical structures? Are we still very much like our dogs, do we need to know our place in the ‘order’ of our tribe or pack? Do we need alpha leaders, and are we willing to submit to their authority in the way that wolves submit to their alpha leaders?

Please share your comments and answers to these questions. Tomorrow I will continue this inquiry.

Racism, Rankism, and Nonviolence

It’s not only about Michael Brown, and Darren Wilson.  It’s not only about Ferguson, Missouri, St. Louis County, or the State of Missouri.  It is about a culture of extreme rankism.  Rankism is abusive, discriminatory, or exploitive behavior towards people because of their rank in a particular hierarchy.

Once you have a name for it, you see rankism at the heart of many infringements of human rights, far away, or close to home. Rankism is the root cause of indignity, injustice, and unfairness. Choosing the term rankism, places the goal of universal human dignity in the context of contemporary movements for civil rights. Identifying rankism in all its guises and overcoming it is the next step in human evolution. 

Human beings are evolving towards democracy, partnership, and egalitarianism.  Unfortunately, we are also experiencing a time of tremendous pushback as those who have more power in our hierarchical culture use that power to protect their power and gain even more power.  Yet, people are finding and exploring their power within mass movements.  Gradually human beings are coming to a deeper realization of their innate power, and the ways that they give up that power to their leaders.  As mentioned in earlier posts, people are becoming less willing to give their power to their leaders, to be obedient followers. 

One lesson that can be gleaned from the recent shootings of young black men by police officers is that violence begets violence.  Violence does not contribute to peace with justice.  Although police officers think they are using violence to keep the peace in their communities, they are really just participating in escalating cycles of violence. 

Our inability to enact sensible gun controls = increasing use of guns by criminals.  When criminals can easily obtain military assault style weapons, then law enforcement justifiably feel the need to acquire military assault style vehicles and weapons.  Once they have those weapons, they feel justified in using them against their own neighbors and within their own communities.  Now we see images that evoke feelings that our government is literally at war with our own citizens. 

As a practitioner of nonviolence, and a conscientious objector to war, I have never had any desire to possess firearms.  However, as a person who believes passionately in our right to nonviolent assembly, seeing the police show up to a demonstration for racial justice with assault rifles and armored vehicles helps me to understand how my libertarian neighbors think they need absolute rights to own firearms (to protect themselves from our government).  It is a vicious, costly, and very sad cycle of violence leading to tragic deaths and increased violence.

Rankism supports the use of violence by those with more power against those with less power; the culture of might makes right. 

Racism is our most visible rankism.  People of color cannot blend in. Even when they excel and achieve positional power within a hierarchical culture, the color of their skin is always visible. 

Rankism depends on underlying beliefs that the lives of some people are more important or valuable than the lives of other classes of people.  #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackoutBlackFriday are movements (primarily nonviolent) that are actively and creatively taking collective action to raise awareness of the impact of racism in our communities. 

Yes, there are also violent uprisings occurring in Ferguson and other cities.  Young black men are outraged.  Violence is used to keep them oppressed, and much of what they know is violence.  They do not understand the power of nonviolence.  Yet, there are people of color and white people coming together in loosely organized leader-ful movements throughout our country.  We are experiencing the end of authoritarian leadership and the emergence of people powered movements. (At least that is my hope).

We want your stories!  How does rankism contribute to racism?  Have you felt like the hierarchical system treats you as a human being of “lesser value” because you are a person of color, and immigrant, gay/lesbian/transgender/or queer, a woman, a person who lives in extreme poverty (resource deprived)?  In what ways do you fit into a category of people with some privilege that has been granted by a culture of rankism?  Do you ever feel trapped within that system, unable to break down the hierarchy of rank and privilege?  What actions are you taking to create a world of partnership, collaboration, and shared-power?

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Beyond the leader follower dichotomy

Younger generations are restless and suspicious of hierarchical leadership, for good reason. They prefer to be actively engaged in the causes that they care about. However, they may not possess the maturity and skills to be evolutionary co-leaders.  We must face the fact that the United States has not invested in the type and quality of education designed to create millions of thought leaders and activists prepared to address the challenges of our age.  We teach most students to follow instructions, not create new possibilities. [And there are lots of exceptions to this, I am inspired by some of the young social activist leaders I know… but they are not the majority].

One of the most important aspects of the new culture of leadership is that people will no longer have the luxury of simply being followers.  People will shed the false notion that they are powerless. 

Although we all have innate abilities to lead, we have drastically different social locations and contexts.   Oppression is a powerful force that convinces people that they cannot change their circumstances or context.  Rankism, racism, sexism, classism and many other systems rob people of their innate power. 

Taking back our power can be dangerous, even life-threatening.  We need to create supportive structures and contexts for people that allow people re-discover their innate ability to use their power.  

We also need to retrain adults, to take back their power, by teaching them to make countless small daily choices that dismantle the hierarchical power systems.  Many adults shy away from leadership roles, particularly women.  We need to support people as they strive to be less dependent (they can no longer depend on their employer to provide for their needs), to be more generative (to create meaningful work), and to be more generous (we are in this together, and we need to give those who are struggling a hand up). 

The most difficult kind of generosity is giving people what they need to sustain themselves.  This level of generosity sometime threatens us because we have bought into the scarcity myth and we are used to playing the capitalist competition win/lose games. 

We fail to see that working 50 or 60 hours a week to keep our job, steals so much of the quality of our lives.  There would be enough work, and enough food and shelter to go around if we practiced an empowering kind of generosity. 

This evolutionary transformation needs to begin within our selves, extending to our families and neighbors, rippling out to our workplaces and markets, impacting the way we vote, and the people we elect. All politics are local, and global transformation begins in our local community. 

The metaphor or image that I hold for this new model of leadership is the image of an ecosystem, or a perma-culture (garden).  It is holistic and highly collaborative.  Each person contributes something to the collective well-being, even if the contribution is as ordinary as receiving love and care (our children and people with severe disabilities).  The leadership culture is an eco-egalitarian culture.

It will not be easy.  It will be the most difficult and courageous thing that human beings have ever done.  Our survival depends on it.  We did not create the web of life; we are merely strands in it.  We can be engaged in restoring the web, and creating stronger connections.  We are in this together.