Individuality in the Animal Kingdom
The evening sun begins to set on the horizon. A porcupine treads up towards a lion nonchalantly and leans against a rock.
“Hey boss, how’s your day going?”
“Not bad, Porcupine. I hunted down a few zebras today. You know, the usual,” says Lion.
“Not bad, indeed. Say, a zebra’s got to be pretty fast huh? How do you run so fast anyway? My personal best is only 30 mph, top,” Porcupine reminisces.
“I can grind out 80 mph on a good day. My knees are feeling a bit sore lately though – think I’m going to rest it out a bit,” Lion responds with a pensive glance into the distance.
“You don’t say, you don’t say. Maybe I should start practicing sprinting faster. Even 40 mph would be amazing!” Porcupine exclaims, pondering the vision.
“But…why? You have no reason to run 40 mph. I mean, no carnivore would dare touch you because, well, nobody needs splinters in their mouths and throats,” Lion reasons, perplexed by Porcupine’s odd and abrupt idea.
“I don’t know, I just feel inadequate beside you. I’m basically a turtle – okay not that slow. But it would be super cool for me to run faster. Imagine the look on the hog, turtle, sloth, and that whole crew’s faces! Ah, the envy and respect…” Porcupine imagines, salivating.
Raising only her left eyebrow, Lion stands up and begins walking away.
“Take care, Porc. Don’t get lost on your way home as you daydream.”
Did that story sound familiar? No? That’s because it’s preposterous. It would never happen in the animal kingdom. Maybe only in a children’s book would this kind of setup make sense. Even if in real life, animals could communicate with each other, they would never have a dialogue about strengths and weaknesses. There is simple and utter individuality in the animal kingdom, in the food chain. If you’re higher up on the food chain, you need to hunt and kill your prey to eat and therefore survive. If you were lower on the food chain, you better be really good at hiding, running, flying, or swimming away from the predator. By definition of intelligence, animals don’t have the concept of envy or comparison. Each is born with a genetic blueprint that is unique to their environment and instrumental to their reproductive and survival mechanisms. The porcupine will never feel insecure about how much slower it runs compared to the lion. The fish will never envy the seagull for being able to fly. You get the point.
A subtle (but powerful) lesson we can take away from the animal kingdom is their unwavering focus on and commitment to doing what they were born to do best. Is it getting weird yet? Are you thinking “Dude, Jeff, why in the world are you asking us to compare ourselves to animals? That’s just odd.” Okay fine, I don’t actually want you to start figuring out which animal you’re most similar to. This blog is not about that. Here’s the insight: people often worry about their weaknesses, their shortcomings, their starting point situation – and they often doubt themselves. They are insecure about their looks, their intelligence, their confidence in a social setting, their eclectic taste in music, art, or hobbies. Yet, what they don’t realize is that individuality is okay. You can and should not be afraid to be yourself – in fact you should celebrate your quirks and passions. Just because you may not be as tall as your friend, you may have a better ear for music and may not be as tone-deaf as he is.
A famous YouTube video that went viral a couple of years back summarizes this need to return to individuality in a massively diverse world beautifully:
“Honey badger don’t give a shit.”