Us and antelopes

I am sure that you have seen one of the many nature documentaries from Africa showing a herd of antelope walking quietly along while at the side a lion feasts on one of their unlucky members. They seem remarkably unconcerned about a violent and stealthy predator eating a fellow antelope. What is going on? Why aren’t they dashing off in all directions?

 I have never understood this … until yesterday. I was driving on a highway when I passed a car pulled over at the side of the road with a police car behind it, lights flashing and looking very imposing. The police person was standing by the driver’s door, examining papers. I was struck by a thought about how much we are like antelope.

 When I passed the pulled-over car, my thoughts were that it wasn’t me pulled over and that if the cop was there, then the road ahead was likely free of police presence for a while, and I relaxed, exactly like an antelope. If the lion has already caught its prey, then it wasn’t me and if the lion was there, then the way ahead was likely free of predator presence for a while. I could relax.

 Let’s examine this idea a little. When something bad happens to someone else, it is always a tragedy, but at the same time there is a happy little voice in my head that says; “It isn’t me”. It is, of course, politically incorrect to voice this view publicly. The Germans are perhaps a little more open about this concept. They even have a word for it; “Schadenfreude”. We use the same word in English to describe pleasure at someone else’s misfortune.

 It is also a powerful, if subtle, reminder that we each have to live our own lives. We come into life alone, we exit it alone. We have many relationships, close or casual, throughout our lives but only we have the ability – or need – to live our personal life. We can’t live others’ lives, even though the temptation may be there, as in living your unrequited dream vicariously through your children. And others can’t live your life for you.

So, when you are considering any course of action, remember the antelope and take whatever action you need to take to meet your own code, your own needs and dreams. Stay in the moment and live each day fully. You never know what the future will bring for you. That dead antelope hadn’t planned to meet that particular lion that day, either.

One Comment

  1. Posted September 14, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting…there is also a link with our ability to empathize, which varies among us humans somewhat, and greatly between species. While some of us may relax about the cop not being in front of us, I myself tend to be reminded that it could have been me. And I usually slow down a little as result.


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