Back in July 2018, I saw a beautiful posting about geese on Facebook from Judy Atkinson. I couldn’t resist asking Judy if I could use her posting as my Sharing Culture blog that day. Here is Judy’s post again, with modified paragraphing for added impact.
‘Fact one: As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the birds following it. By flying in a V-formation, the whole flock adds 71 percent greater flying range than if the bird flew alone.
The lesson from this fact: Many Indigenous cultures recognize that there is a lot I can do myself, there’s a lot I can do with a partner, but the power of what I can get done with a collective is quantum. It’s a mega-step, a mega movement. 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. Let’s become geese.
Fact two: 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 others.
Fact three: When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies at the point position.
An invaluable lesson for us to apply to all group work. It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. Shared leadership can take us a long way. With people as with geese, we are interdependent on each other’s skills and capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents, resources, or what Indigenous societies call the ‘good, true and beautiful’, in Stanner’s words the ceremonial practices of uniting hearts and establishing order.
Fact four: The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those in front to keep up their speed.
Lesson: we need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging, not something else. In groups where there is greater encouragement against great odds, the production is much greater—the power of encouragement. I love the word courage because it means ‘to stand by one’s heart, to stand by one’s core’. [Roy Tatten, Bob Weatherall and Les Malzer taught me to do that many years ago] To encourage someone else’s core, to encourage someone else’s heart—we need to practice that quality of honking.
Fact five: 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 [remember death is no more than a step into the next cycle of the on-going life cycles]. 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. And I think it’s important that one of the things Indigenous cultures have done for years is that they look to nature as an outer mirror of one’s own internal nature. And so we begin to learn about collectives of animals and their patterns, perhaps we have some tools, techniques, methodologies about community and about collective work and group work we can also apply to this proposal to set us our own think tank working group action team.’
Judy adapted this piece from a talk by Abgeles Arrien to the Organisation Development network, 1992. ‘Insight and Action’ by Tova Green, Peter Woodrow and Fran Peavey (1994), New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada.
Let’s become geese!