Every day is a school day, as a wise person once said. Whilst that’s not particularly enlightening news to children or teachers, it reminds me that there is always something new to learn.
As we go through life, it’s easy to forget how much we come to rely on others. School teaches us many things, as do our parents, siblings and peers, however, have you ever thought about how much you can learn from geese? Robert McNeish was the first to offer this feathered analogy in 1972. It’s stood the test of time because its brilliant, reminds us of the power of the group and community and in this pandemic warrants being told again.
I’m sure you’ve seen geese flying above you at some point. Looking up in the sky to see them form a beautiful ‘V’ pattern as they migrate. This formation isn’t an accident. As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an ‘uplift’ for the birds that follow behind it. For those following behind, this uplift increases the range that they can fly collectively by 71% – a figure so exact it can only be true!
As humans we learn at an early age that flapping our arms fails to result in any sort of uplift. This doesn’t mean we can’t rely on others to help us fly, figuratively at least. Like the geese, when we share a common goal and a sense of community, we can get wherever we’re going, quicker and with less effort. When we can feel, share and feed on each other’s drive to reach our destination, we’ll find that we arrive in style. On your journey now, more than ever, wouldn’t it be great and easier to share the load and flap a little less?
Of course, the ‘V’ formation is a great system for every goose, except the leader. They are out in front, doing the hard work, without any uplifting help from any one goose. Thankfully, the geese have evolved to conquer this problem too. When the leader begins to tire, it eases back into formation and their place, at the head of the flock, is taken by another. It’s a leadership skill they all share. No one has to do it all.
As people, some of us are much less comfortable with leading than others, which is absolutely fine. We are, however, all equally interdependent on the skills of others. Each of us will have our own arsenal of unique gifts, talents, skills and resources to draw upon and, when we share them, it can only result in easier and better times. Like the geese, if we take turns in doing the hard work, it can only result in forward motion for all of us. Do you want your life to go backwards? Me neither.
You’ll probably hear the geese long before you see them above you. Their distinctive ‘honk’ serves a greater purpose. Not only do they love the attention it gives them it also offers encouragement to the leaders to keep going and maintain their speed. We do the same thing or, at least, we could. It will help those around us if we replace the ‘honking’ with more verbally eloquent encouragement. When we work in groups, as part of a family or in the community, actively encouraging those around us can motivate everyone. When did you last tell your partner or friend they are doing a great job? A motivated community, however its made up, will make for a much more productive, resilient and happy group.
On their long migration do you think any of the geese are prone to a rebellious streak? That one of them might suddenly think “this whole V thing is a bit dull, I’m going to branch out on my own?” They might think it though they don’t do it. When one does drift out of formation they soon feel the drag and resistance caused by flying alone. It quickly reclaims its place in formation to take full advantage of the support and power of the collective. Thankfully you don’t have to rebel to realise that sticking with and supporting those around us is key to getting us all to where we want to go.
With geese, as with us homo-sapiens, sooner or later there’s going to be a problem along the way – like a pandemic! When you’re flying high, that problem can be very serious. If one of the geese becomes ill, wounded or shot down and has to land, it doesn’t do so alone. Two of the flock will fly down to help and protect their wounded brethren. They will stay by their side until they are able to fly again or until they die. When they restart their journey, they fly in the same, albeit smaller, V formation until they catch up with the others. On the whole, we are smarter than geese. Goose or human, we are definitely stronger together especially in difficult times.
Now you might think I’ve stretched this goose analogy as far as it will go? Not quite. Remember Top Gun? The ‘classic’ 80’s movie all about fighter-jet pilots starring Tom Cruise? Of course you do. The strongest influence on Cruise’s character throughout his life was the bromance with his friend and co-pilot. This man kept Tom’s feet on the ground (figuratively), supported him through the difficult times, watched his back and was there to drive him on to be the best he could be. Remember his name? Nick Bradshaw, although you might know him via his call-sign…. Goose! Think about it.
Isn’t this the perfect time for being, or having, a goose in our lives?
Enjoy the day you create.