What Can We Learn About Community From Animals?
Speaker 1: 00:00 Elephants have a multi-step greeting ritual, including to put their trunks in one another's mouth. It's their way of shaking hands. But what can we take away from knowing about animal rituals like that one academic author and photographer, Caitlin O'Connell, who also happens to be a San Diego and is out with a new book that explores this it's called wild rituals, 10 lessons. Animals can teach us about connection community and ourselves. Caitlin. Welcome. Speaker 2: 00:27 Thanks so much for having me in Speaker 1: 00:28 General. What can we say? What can we take away rather from understanding rituals that take place in both human and wild animal societies? Speaker 2: 00:37 Well, the reason I wrote this book was I was so struck by how important ritual is to the rest of the animal kingdom that I realized that there's a lot of ritual that we tend to neglect. And I think, you know, I started writing this book before the pandemic, but I, I think the pandemic has made us realize what we're losing by not being in person with each other, by not being able to smile at each other because we all have to wear a mask to stay safe and hugging or shaking hands. Those are really important greeting rituals that sometimes we take for granted, even in our own households, you know, looking at each other in the eye and in the morning, you're rushing to our coffee machine and kind of get my coffee. But just that simple moment of looking at your partner or family member loved one in the eye and saying, good morning seems so obvious, but it's often just overlooked. And I wanted to bring back the idea of how important simple rituals are in our lives. So I focus on 10 that I see on a daily basis in the wild with elephants and other animals. And I thought it would help us look in the mirror more closely and, and realize the importance of ritual in our lives. Speaker 1: 01:58 And if it helps us to look in the mirror, does it help us create an increased compassion? Speaker 2: 02:03 Definitely because if we realize that we're all this extended family, really, we're all social animals and all of these rituals are important. If they're important to other animals and to us, then that makes us more interconnected and compassionate, you know, seeing other animals going through grieving rituals is a really stunning reminder of how similar we are and how we have the same needs emotional needs. Speaker 1: 02:34 I described a part of an elephant ritual earlier, but can you give me another example of an animal ritual that you write about in the book? Speaker 2: 02:41 Sure. You know, the whole idea of greening is really to disarm a, another individuals and maintain peace. So for example, two black rhinos coming into a waterhole to drink they're very aggressive and very territorial, but the first thing they do is basically leave their swords at the door. They come up to each other and put their horns face-to-face and then kind of do a little bit of a, a jousting motion back and forth with their horns. And then the, all of the anxiety is just released and then they can drink and peace knowing that they did this. So it's a very interesting thing for an elephant is a very trusting thing to place a trunk in another's mouth. The other, the other elephant could bite off the tip of his trunk. So by doing that, it's a very trusting and very similar to the handshake cause it's like, I see you, uh, I respect you, uh, in, in the original act of the handshake is thought to show the other person that they're not carrying a weapon. So the, this very disarming aspect to a greeting ritual that keeps the peace aside from the bonding aspect of it, Speaker 1: 04:00 Connection and community are two aspects of daily life that so many of us are struggling to get a handle on these days. Just one, is it about animal rituals that can help us strengthen our understanding of that? Yeah. Speaker 2: 04:12 Yeah. Connection is a really important one. And, and, um, I drive this home in my group rituals chapter it's thought that we developed group rituals in order to facilitate hunting. In our early days, we had to hunt the giant sloths and the mammoth. And there's no way that one person could do that by themselves, but by engaging in ritual, in order to build trust in a hunting party, these kinds of behaviors it developed. So what is a group ritual? When you think of a marching band and synchronized swimmers, they all are doing something, a repeated action that's recognizable and, or, you know, a religious right, repeating a prayer or singing together. These actions stimulate the amygdala and other areas of the brain to focus their attention on that one thing. And that also facilitates long-term memory and what these simple actions of moving your arms in a synchronized way with other members of the group creates a bonding and identity within that group and makes you feel stronger and empowered and having this group cohesive nature. Uh, so we all have these rituals and the same mechanism for creating that strength in the group. Um, but it's very important to keep that in perspective so that we make group rituals a positive thing and not a negative thing. Right. Speaker 1: 05:42 And what is the impact of not being able to engage in these rituals? Speaker 2: 05:47 Well, I think we're all feeling the isolation from the pandemic, um, being in physical contact, tactile contact in just being in presence and not over zoom, you know, zoom, at least you get to see each other's faces and facial expressions, but the non-spoken ritual aspect of being in the same room, there's a hormones like oxytocin, which is called the bonding hormone that occurs between a mother and a baby or two loved ones, or even you and your dog. When you gaze at each other and are in physical proximity, you gain these hormonal benefits and those benefits really help facilitate stronger relationships. And we're really suffering from not being able to be together. Speaker 1: 06:38 Do you have any thoughts on how we can continue to perform some of these rituals right now when we need to stay six feet away, uh, from people who don't live with us? Speaker 2: 06:48 Well, that's an excellent question. I think one of the things is that I think a lot of us tend to get a little lazy and not want to have to deal with this. Um, and so we just turn further into ourselves as opposed to saying, you know what, it's still important and we have to be six feet apart, but at least we can be together and it takes more energy to figure out how to stay connected, but it's all the more important to do so now, because we're all suffering from this, Speaker 1: 07:20 I've been speaking to Caitlin O'Connell, who was out with a new book, wild rituals, 10 lessons, animals can teach us about connection community and ourselves. Thank you so much, Katie. Speaker 2: 07:31 Oh, thanks so much for having me.