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May 29, 2020

An Observation About Pigeons and People

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I was on a morning run, and I had just picked up the pace because I was nearing the end, when I saw probably 20 pigeons all on the sidewalk in front of me pecking at something. With my blistering pace I startled them as I gained ground and naturally they all got up in a fuss and flew away at the same time. Makes sense, as I approached, I startled them and they relied on a built in fight or flight response that has helped them to survive for hundreds of thousands of years as a species. What was interesting though, was that they didn’t all just fly away, they all scattered randomly at first, then came together and flew in a coordinated pack with a strange amount of order. 

I believe the way pigeons responded to me as a threat in this situation is very similar to how we as humans respond to threats. We also have responses built up over generations of survival of the fittest and evolution, but something we underestimate is that we also have responses built up over our lifetime that we have come to find comfort in. When we’re exposed to a threat, and not necessarily a physical threat but an emotional, social, or psychological threat, many of us turn inward out of emotional protection. The opportunity here is if we take an extra moment to think through our unconscious response, we might be able to pursue a distinct advantage. 

Let’s use the pigeons here as an example. If one pigeon had the presence to know that their “fly away” response wasn’t necessary, and instead had hopped out of the way, it would have been able to return to pecking at the ground again sooner. This would violate their natural instinct but would produce a better result.

As humans, we have knee jerk reactions to so many things like bad news, awkward moments, and failure. In the face of these moments, we tend to resort to what’s comfortable. But what might be more advantageous, is if we can continue on and discover the opportunity hidden behind the knee jerk reaction, then we can begin making progress more often in a meaningful way.

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