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About the Author
The author of the bestseller The Tao of Equus , Linda Kohanov speaks and teaches internationally. She established Eponaquest Worldwide to explore the healing potential of working with horses and offer programs on everything from emotional and social intelligence, leadership, stress reduction, and parenting to consensus building and mindfulness. She lives near Tucson, Arizona.
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Evolution of Power
Like many people, I've long appreciated the peace and renewal that nature offers. But I'll never forget the day I first glimpsed the benevolence, and highly adaptive intelligence, of the human-animal bond.
In the mid-1990s, I was boarding my horses at a rustic private facility located next to a large desert preserve. While I enjoyed exploring the trails with my experienced cow horse Noche, I also looked forward to quality time with Rasa, who couldn't be ridden because of a chronic leg injury. Increasingly, the saddle collected dust as I took long walks with my night-haired companion, letting her roam off lead to nibble the dry, nut-flavored grasses as we meandered through a vast, primal landscape. Occasionally, I would also invite my year-old, mixed-breed dog Nala to accompany us, hoping she would soon develop the ability to override her more aggressive instincts and protect, rather than chase, the horses.
Rasa was well suited to assisting me in this task. While other herd members would charge off at a gallop when Nala raced after them, the black mare would trot a few steps and slow down to a walk, shaking her mane in protest, kicking out slightly in warning, but never making contact. Her restraint with Nala seemed intentional: Many times, I had seen Rasa run coyotes out of her pasture, though her actions also had a playful quality to them, as if herding small predators was a hobby she adopted for her own amusement.
One evening just as the sun was slipping below the horizon, the three of us were heading home after a relaxing, uneventful hike. Suddenly, Nala crouched down slightly, narrowed her eyes, and growled. Rasa raised her head and stared in the same direction. Moments later, announced by the sound of rustling leaves and snapping branches, a small yet imposing herd of cattle emerged from a nearby mesquite grove. I wasn't sure if the animals were merely curious or potentially dangerous, but I couldn't help focusing on their impressive horns as one of the larger females began to walk toward us with several others falling in formation behind.
At nearly eighty pounds, Nala was not a small dog. Even so, she turned tail, ran straight to me, and huddled against my legs for support, looking up as if to say, "What should we do now?" My only possible herding tool — Rasa's lead rope — dangled from my shoulder. Just as I was considering whether to stand my ground or carefully walk away, the black horse pinned her ears and lunged toward this rangy bovine contingent. The cows lowered their heads, backed up in synchrony, and turned away. Then, just for good measure, Rasa trotted back and forth in an arc, as if she were drawing a curving line in the sand, creating a protective bubble around Nala and me that was clearly not to be crossed.
I was astonished. Noche was the seasoned cow horse, not Rasa. If anything, I would have expected my dog to rush at the cattle as the mare ran home. For weeks afterward, my brain worked overtime, combining and recombining the "facts" I had learned about the "drama of survival." Ultimately, I was less confused by Nala's reticence to attack than by the question of why a herbivore, and a slightly lame one at that, would defend us both.
It took me twenty years to collect research capable of shedding some light on this event. (As in the case of emotional and social intelligence, pivotal studies on animal behavior that seem so obvious now simply weren't available in the 1990s.) Slowly, bits and pieces of the puzzle were revealed through multiple disciplines, infusing my writing with lots of questions and, thankfully over time, a growing list of answers that eventually allowed me to discern some useful patterns.
In part 1, I summarize and expand upon the most relevant theories and examples I presented in The Power of the Herd — ideas that in some cases challenge our most treasured, tenacious views about nature while foreshadowing a more balanced, mutually supportive approach to power. In the process, we'll revisit long-held misconceptions about the instinctual behaviors, emotional vitality, and intellectual capacity of all animals, including the talented, sometimes overly aggressive species known as Homo sapiens.
Most people are familiar with Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. Related research by Peter Alekseevich Kropotkin, however, has virtually gone underground. The Russian geographer and naturalist published Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution in 1902. Over the next fifty years, the book was rejected, in some cases actively suppressed, by royalty, fascists, capitalists, and communists alike. Based on a collection of essays and magazine articles he wrote in the late 1800s, Kropotkin's observations of supportive social behavior in nature struck some corporate and political leaders as "dangerous." In fact, even before Mutual Aid made it into bookstores, Kropotkin was obliged to put his keen, insightful intellect to other uses, namely figuring out how to escape from jail.
The czarist-era Russian nobleman hadn't intended to cause so much trouble. Born a prince (though he rejected that title at age fourteen), he had significant connections and resources to draw upon. When Darwin's book On the Origin of Species appeared in 1859, Kropotkin was inspired to contribute to the scientific literature on this topic. Commandeering a group of ten Cossacks and fifty horses, he trotted off to Siberia, hoping to gather case studies to support and further define the intricacies of evolution. But soon enough, he was confused and disillusioned by what he saw — or perhaps more specifically, by what he didn't see.
"I failed to find — although I was eagerly looking for it — that bitter struggle for the means of existence, among animals belonging to the same species, which was considered by most Darwinists (though not always Darwin himself) as the dominant characteristic of the struggle for life, and the main factor of evolution," (italics added) Kropotkin wrote on the very first page of Mutual Aid.
He was even more disturbed by the fast-growing relationship between Darwinism and sociology, emphasizing that he "could agree with none of the works and pamphlets that had been written upon this important subject. They all endeavored to prove that Man, owing to his higher intelligence and knowledge, may mitigate the harshness of the struggle for life between men; but they all recognized at the same time that the struggle for the means of existence, of every animal against all its congeners, and of every man against all other men, was 'a law of Nature.'"
In Kropotkin's experience, this potentially destructive view "lacked confirmation from direct observation." By then, he had witnessed significant instances of mutual support and competition avoidance in the vast numbers of animals he encountered in the Siberian outback. Bears hibernating, squirrels storing nuts for the winter, and herds of large herbivores languidly migrating were the most obvious examples, but Kropotkin also noticed an even more profound theme emerging.
"The first thing which strikes us is the overwhelming numerical predominance of social species over those few carnivores which do not associate," he wrote, later adding that on the "great plateau of Central Asia we find herds of wild horses, wild donkeys, wild camels, and wild sheep. All these mammals live in societies and nations sometimes numbering hundreds of thousands of individuals, although now, after three centuries of gunpowder civilization, we find but the debris of the immense aggregations of the old. How trifling, in comparison with them, are the numbers of the carnivores! And how false, therefore, is the view of those who speak of the animal world as if nothing were to be seen in it but lions and hyenas plunging their bleeding teeth into the flesh of their victims! One might as well imagine that the whole of human life is nothing but a succession of war massacres."
Kropotkin insisted that mutual aid is not an exception to the rule; it is a law of nature. Supportive behavior, he wrote, "enables the feeblest of insects, the feeblest birds, and the feeblest mammals to resist, or to protect themselves from the most terrible birds and beasts of prey; it permits longevity; it enables the species to rear its progeny with the least waste of energy and to maintain its numbers albeit a very slow birthrate; it enables the gregarious animals to migrate in search of new abodes. Therefore, while fully admitting that force, swiftness, protective colors, cunningness, and endurance to hunger and cold, which are mentioned by Darwin and Wallace, are so many qualities making the individual, or the species, the fittest under certain circumstances, we maintain that under any circumstances sociability is the greatest advantage in the struggle for life."
Kropotkin's view of evolution subsequently moved him to social activism, though in this context his ideas were a bit too revolutionary. To find so many incidents of mutual aid and nonpredatory behavior in the animal kingdom was one thing. To become a vocal anarchist as a result of these observations was quite another. While some of his discoveries won him worldwide recognition as a geographer, he subsequently took on a decidedly subversive mission, disguising himself as a traveling peasant lecturer named Borodin to spread nature-inspired visions of social reform, encouraging peaceful collectives of free, empowered people living in decentralized systems. After landing in a Russian prison as a result of these antics, he continued to promote his ideas throughout Europe upon his escape. From Kropotkin's perspective, cooperation not only trumped competition in the drama of survival, it hinted at a deeper reality pulsing beneath the twentieth century's increasingly unbalanced obsession with instinct and intellect.
The Beat Goes On
The heart, and all it stands for, is not a human invention. It's a force of nature.
Science prefers to dissect it and repair it. Religion alternately strives to promote it and control it. Art is unabashedly fueled by it. And yet leaders in all these disciplines have tried to hoard the heart's legendary wisdom by spreading, throughout history, the incessant propaganda that our species is the only one that feels, cares, suffers, yearns, loves — and therefore deserves to thrive at the expense of all the others.
At the same time, oddly enough, far too many leaders engage in activities that require suppressing empathy and connection. The Egyptians, after all, did not build the pyramids with compassion as their prime directive. From slavery and war to modern factory farming, child labor, and environmental devastation, conquest-oriented pursuits demand that people sacrifice their hearts to the glory of some brilliant idea, outlandish ambition, or intriguing profit-making venture.
In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the concept of evolution was used as yet another way to justify callous, opportunistic behavior. Co-opted by aggressive political and business factions that had previously used the divine right of kings and other religious metaphors to control the masses, Darwin's theory was reduced to slogans that promoted the survival of the fittest and competition for limited resources as laws of nature. Dictators, robber baron–style capitalists, and other human predators felt all the more inspired to develop "efficient" ways of exploiting resources, animals, and people who were touted as less evolved. Communism purported to level the playing field, but these experiments also failed as they relied on centralized control, suppression, and fear to gain "cooperation" in executing their initially idealistic plans.
The heart was missing in all these endeavors, reinforced by the notion that nature itself was an unfeeling, unintelligent, mechanical process. Darwin's writings, however, explicitly contrasted with this premise. "There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties," he wrote in his 1871 book The Descent of Man. As far as emotions were concerned, he also asserted that "the lower animals, like man, manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness and misery."
It took over 140 years for scientists to officially confirm this aspect of Darwin's theory. On July 7, 2012, "The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness" stated "unequivocally" that "non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of consciousness states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness." The document acknowledged that "neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals." This includes "all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses."
Research in the late-twentieth century also confirmed Kropotkin's thesis that sociability is an important factor in survival and in the ongoing evolution of multiple species. There's even a biochemical basis for this inclination. The hormone oxytocin, which is present in all mammals, buffers the fight-or-flight response in favor of "tend-and-befriend" behavior. This powerful neuropeptide, once thought to be released only in females during labor and milk production, also appears in men when they engage in nurturing activities, including petting and caring for animals. In both sexes, oxytocin heightens learning capacity, social recognition circuits, and pain thresholds. It also helps heal wounds faster, lowers aggression, and creates a sense of connection and well-being.
The wonders of oxytocin have spurred further research into the long-term transformational effects of the human-animal bond itself, leading to an unmistakable conclusion: Caring for others is a part of nature that has taken on a life of its own, moving far beyond parenting direct offspring. Evolution has a heart. It's much more than a fleshy pump. We ignore its vast connecting wisdom at our peril. And we evolve in direct relation to how consciously we embrace it.
Seeing Is Believing
Social media abounds with animal videos illustrating strong interspecies relationships and heroic acts of protection. Most striking, of course, are interactions between carnivores and creatures that would normally be considered food. In one popular scene, a polar bear gently plays with a Siberian husky. In another clip, a wild deer emerges from the woods to frolic with a large family dog.
"Well, that's easy to explain," one scientifically minded colleague told me. "Over thousands of years, our ancestors selected for friendly canines that could be trusted with our chickens, our sheep, our goats, and our children."
"But how do you account for the overtures made by the polar bear and the deer?" I asked in response. We both shook our heads in silent wonder.
In still another video, we see the stunning effects of oxytocin. An Irish barn cat, who has just given birth, becomes enamored with a group of ducklings nearby. With her system swimming in the ultimate bonding hormone, the feline's mothering instincts override her hunting instincts. One by one, she carries the hatchlings back to her blanket, not to eat them, but to nurse them. And the fluffy yellow puffballs begin to snuggle, softly chirping, sipping milk alongside her purring newborns! As time goes on, the connection grows stronger, with the fast-growing ducks waddling behind their adoptive mother, towering over their feisty kitten siblings on morning walks to explore the farm.
Granted, these clips mostly feature domesticated animals that were bred to live with other species. But naturalists have also observed coyotes and badgers hunting ground squirrels together, and zebras engaging in cooperative migratory activities with wildebeests. Beyond these scientifically validated examples, thousands of impressive amateur videos have captured supportive, even altruistic behavior among wild animals. Even though they may be willing to kill to protect their family members, however, large herbivores stop fighting when an aggressor backs off. This tendency to avoid fighting to the death, to "live and let live," is a major characteristic of what I've come to call "nonpredatory power."
Twenty years ago, I heard the first of many talented cowboys waxing poetic on what became a very popular theme. "Humans are predators, and horses are prey animals," he said during a well-attended lecture-demonstration. "And yet they allow us on their backs. Imagine that, letting a lion on your back! Isn't that incredible?"
Excerpted from "The Five Roles of a Master Herder"
Copyright © 2016 Linda Kohanov.
Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part I Artifacts and Origins
Chapter 1 Evolution of Power 29
Chapter 2 Mutual Transformation 53
Part II Five Roles
Chapter 3 Direct and Protect: Dominance without Malice Role: Dominant 79
Chapter 4 Discover and Inspire: Leadership through Relationship Role: Leader 99
Chapter 5 Support and Connect: The Power of Companionship Role: Nurturer/Companion 111
Chapter 6 Observe and Alert: The Sentinel's Perspective Role: Sentinel 125
Chapter 7 Cull and Recalibrate: The Predator's Sacred Task Role: Predator 139
Part III Balancing the Roles
Chapter 8 Growing Pains 157
Chapter 9 Working with a Herd: Applications in Real Life 175
Master Herder Professional Assessment 207
About the Author 239
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