By Pieter De Wit
Humans and animals are both wired for survival. Our basic needs are food, security and reproduction. But our behaviour and our means to get them are very different!
As humans, we live in the richest time ever. Still, we face many crises: economic downturns, a global health pandemic, increased mental health issues, and a climate emergency. Yet, happiness is within our reach, all we need is to recognise it and take the right actions.
We are far from a perfect civilisation, but why do we face so many problems that the animal world doesn’t? Can we learn from the animals’ behaviour and improve all our lives?
Where Did It All Go Wrong?
In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari tells us how thousands of years ago hunting and gathering was humanity’s only way to survive. Then we started settlements and cultivated the earth with grains and other crops. What we thought was one of the best steps towards being smarter and superior to animals, turned out to be a misleading trap.
The more we settled down to grow our own food, the less healthy our diets became. When a harvest failed, people had to beg for food or starve to death. Working on farms, or any work to provide food and shelter, started to dominate our lives. This difference in evolution is one reason why I think animals are much better than us at being civil and are less prone to prejudice.
While we started to behave more “human”, animals kept foraging on the vast African savannas. Wild animals’ behaviour still respects their physiology and mental wiring. A gazelle easily attains the recommended target of 10,000 steps a day, eats a nutritionally balanced diet, breathes clean air, and rests when it feels the need. They live day by day like there’s no tomorrow. I believe it’s this authentic lifestyle that makes them more civil than their human counterparts.
Have you ever seen a documentary about the mating behaviour of paradise birds? They are amazing! Instead of being drunk at a bar, staring down the local lads while admiring the object of their desire in the hope of an awkward conversation, they perform a stunning spectacle with their beautiful colours and elaborate displays. Civilised!
A Life Free Of Discrimination
Animals mostly respect and understand the vital co-existence of other species or breeds. Even sharks, one of the most feared predators alive, live in harmony with small remora. This suckerfish hitchhikes on their host, devoiding them of parasites, dead skin and even food scraps in the shark’s mouth, in exchange for room and board. I admire this beautiful and genial harmony and think many humans can learn from this amenable relationship.
Generally, animals are simple, they mostly care about their own food, shelter and reproduction. They won’t harm others unless they feel threatened. If you ever find yourself lucky enough to see wild horses, you’ll notice that they often live in families with different colours. White, brown, spotted, grulla, and sabino are just some of the many varieties found. Even within one horse family, a foal is not always the same colour as its parents. They’re all unique, and all treated equally. It’s a pity us human’s can’t all follow their example.
Animals Are No Saints
The animal kingdom is not full of hippies spreading peace and love. Animals are sensitive to social power as well, and they too kill and rape. But the main differences for me are the proportions and how it is embedded in the circle of life. Sharks kill and eat other fish because they are carnivores and need other fish to survive. But they don’t kill based on an ideology or religion. In the mating season, mule deer become more aggressive, and the bucks fight for dominance and the right to mate. It is their instinct to reproduce a strong posterity, but they don’t just fight for nothing when they’re drunk or out of a misguided sense of “pride”.
I’m not saying we should go back to the era of hunters and gatherers, but, as we have come this far, we should start appreciating what we have and give generously to those in need. We must use our knowledge and power to ban hunger, poverty and discrimination from our world.
The key to happiness is not in getting but in giving, not in modern complexity, but in good old simplicity. We hold the cards in our hands, and if we listen to our hearts, we already know what we have to do for the planet and all living species. Now is the time to tap into our best animal behaviour, our survival depends on it more than ever.