The photo above is from my most recent visit to the Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge in central New Mexico. It’s a favorite photography spot, so Henry and I stopped there on our way to spend Christmas with my family last month. One of the spectacles visitors can witness is when thousands of snow geese take off all at once, early in the morning. They temporarily form a single flock as they leave the safety of the water to begin foraging for the day. They don’t always take off all at once (and they didn’t last month), but even smaller groups of birds flying together can be both picturesque and inspiring.
Over the past few months, I’ve been watching birds flock together on my morning walks. The basic reason for such flocking behavior is the safety that comes with sticking together. When birds flock, predators have a lot of potential targets to choose from, and most are able to escape.
We tend to think of animals—and humans—choosing “fight, flight, freeze, or fawn” in response to predatory behavior. Flocking probably falls closest to the “flight” category, but the difference comes in the fact that a flock can choose to fly together, even ducking and dancing in murmuration, without needing to abandon the field altogether.
But while flocking is generally for the protection of the flock, humans have learned to take it one step further. We have learned how to turn a flock into a mob. Rather than taking defensive maneuvers for our safety, we’ve come to believe in taking an offensive stance—fighting rather than taking flight. I watched that happen on January 6, 2021, when the outgoing president riled up his followers into taking on a mob mentality in response to their fears about the future.
We all live with fear. Turning to each other for protection and camaraderie is a reasonable response. However, I don’t believe that flipping from flight to fight gains us anything—at least not at the societal level. What if, instead of fighting each other, we learned how to dance together instead?
When have you joined a flock and why? What did you gain? Was there any desire for the group to take on a mob mentality, and how did you respond to that?
What would you say today to those who exhibit mob-like behavior as a response to their fears?