16 November 2017

Lessons taught by wild geese

Never in my life have I seen, felt and heard so many geese formations flying across the sky as this year. The fact that nowadays I am spending more time outdoors obviously has a lot to do with this – it is not as if there are more of these formations than before, it is just that I notice them now. My daily walks with the dog come with many perks (but that you already knew).

It is a formidable and powerful feeling to see those mighty birds cross the sky in a beautiful V-formation. Django chases after them madly, as if their energy is catching.

I did some research – I cannot help myself – and apparently the geese fly in V-formation during their yearly migration as it conserves more of their energy compared to flying in a single line. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. These feathered creatures basically put aerodynamics into practice without a university degree.

Apparently the birds in front have the easiest job. The ‘lift’ caused by the formation creates a negative pressure area above the birds. This negative pressure sucks the air upwards, so the birds in front experience a lifting air stream. The birds alternate position during flight, to allow each in turn some rest. During migration the geese also communicate with each other. The geese in the back urge those in front to keep up the speed.

How the geese decide who flies at the head of the formation is a well-kept secret, as so many things in the animal and plant kingdom. We humans, with our big brains, can only guess.

Without fully understanding the mystery of their behaviour, the metaphor of the flying wild geese provides many beautiful insights.

  • Our classic image of a leader is someone who leads the troops from the front, with authority and a firm hand. The geese teach us that leadership can take quite different forms: each individual in the group – and not just the one in front – is a leader, with his own role and responsibilities. You can lead from the front, from the side, from the back and from within. And the group clearly benefits. They demonstrate this in an inspiring way.
  • We often don’t bother or are too proud to accept or ask for help, or to delegate. We prefer to appear independent and strong, because asking for help is putting ourselves in a vulnerable position. The geese give up their leadership position in a very smart and timely manner. They know better.
  • Like the geese in formation urge the ones in front to keep going, we can also encourage and compliment each other, which we don’t do often enough. It gives people wings to fly, as the jargon has it.

As for the mystery behind their striking behaviour, maybe it is not even that mysterious. I wrote about it in a previous blog ‘Who is the King of the creation?’. Someone who researches this quite extensively is the cell biologist Rupert Sheldrake (his work is considered as quite controversial by the so-called serious scientists).

He specifically focuses on those questions for which there is no answer (yet), like how ants behave and communicate, how pigeons find their way back, how dogs ‘know’ when their owner is about to come home, etc.. His books and talks are highly recommended when you are interested in learning more about this.

In any case, it is simply inspiring to watch the animal and plant world. “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”, our friend Einstein said.

Lessons taught by wild geese

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