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INTERDEPENDENCE:LESSONS FROM GEESE

On chilly mornings in the coastal marsh you may hear hundreds of wild geese flocked together, gently honking, feeding on found grain. Then, as though responding to a secret signal, they rise as one, wings sweeping air with a huge silken rustling sound that’s unforgettable. And they fly away.

Milton J. Olson describes how geese fly:
“As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird following. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if the bird flew alone.”
Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another. Bike racers and NASCAR drivers know that.
“Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front.”
Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed where we want to go, and be willing to accept their help as well as give ours to the others.
“When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies at the point position.”
Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership—with people, as with geese, we are interdependent upon each other.
“The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.”
Lesson: We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging—and not something else.
“When a goose gets sick or wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it is able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out on their own, with another formation, or catch up with the flock.”
Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we too will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

Geese flock and fly interdependently because they need each other to survive. So do people. But for people, interdependence is messier than for geese. People want it both ways.

Our Declaration of Independence honked at King George III to leave us alone. Americans would no longer pay British taxes, house British soldiers, obey the King’s governors, or tolerate his royal arrogance and whims. We will look after ourselves, thank you very much Your Highness. And, oh yes, like geese we will look after each other, too. Make this a declaration of interdependence as well.

There’s lots of honking about the government eavesdropping on our cell phones without a warrant—secret searches of our personal cyberspace in pursuit of terrorists with awful intentions. But there’s little honking when an alert 911 operator locks on to our cell phone signal to locate us when we’re hurt or lost. We want to be left alone, except when we don’t. We demand independence, except when we badly need interdependence.

The happiness researchers discovered that loners can be happy. A quarter of all Americans live alone. But most of us are happier in interdependent relationships with other people. Happy interdependence is a lifelong process of pursuing happiness—ours and others—at home, in the workplace, in our communities. Interdependence requires sharing some of our private space without excessive honking.

Listen to the geese.

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