Monday, June 23, 2014

Pecking Order

When I was almost five years old, my family moved to a 13-acre piece of land that my father had inherited from his family. My parents had made arrangements to have a beautiful brick home constructed in the middle of the property and as soon as it was finished, we moved in. Shortly after arriving, we began collecting  animals. Eventually we ended up with dogs, cats, chickens, geese, one milk cow, three Shetland ponies, a horse, and 16 dairy goats. It was all very character building and we gleaned important lessons from our experiences with these animals.

My father was a pharmacist in a town located about 30 minutes away, so most of the chores fell to my mother, my brother, and myself, since we were the oldest. Our two younger sisters helped as they could, developing a great love for animals that continues to this day. Dad pitched in whenever possible, but he usually left for work early in the morning and returned home exhausted each night. (We didn't know it at the time, but he was also dealing with a health condition known as Narcolepsy, so his physical strength was limited.) As such, the rest of us rolled up our sleeves and did our best to tackle the landscaping and gardening adventures, as well as animal care.

We raised the dairy goats in part because my father had learned there was a great need for goat's milk in the area. Several babies were allergic to formula and goat's milk was a crucial part of their diet. Deciding we could help with this problem, our parents started with one goat. We gradually increased our small herd, raising Nubians, Toggenburgs, and Saanens. We quickly learned that each goat possessed a colorful personality and we grew to love most of them. A couple of the Toggenbergs were a tad bit ornery but we soon mastered the art of staying out of their reach. The others were a lot of fun and we came to think of them as extended family members. Daisy pranced around like a princess, since she was the first goat purchased. Bianca developed a great love of beets; her white face always revealed whenever she had raided my mother's garden. Prometheus was a soft-hearted tease, so on and so forth.

Though the goats were often our favorite, I learned a great deal more from the chickens. One of the chores I was assigned was to gather the eggs each day. I loved this job--to me it was like a treasure hunt. I didn't enjoy cleaning the eggs as much as finding them, but I relished the time I spent searching in the egg boxes, and in every nook and cranny of the chicken coop. Our chickens were quite productive and I usually found a small bucket's worth of eggs each day.

The more time I spent with the chickens, the more aware I became of a bothersome tendency. I noticed that most of the chickens seemed to pick on one poor member of the flock who for whatever reason, stood out. Each day their selected victim looked worse. Feathers were disappearing. Wounds from sharp beaks became more apparent. Then one day I saw that blood had been drawn. Troubled by this behavior, I reported it to my parents. I was informed that this was typical conduct for chickens, but my parents did their best to intervene. The decrepit looking chicken was isolated from the others. Dad brought home a salve from the drugstore that we smeared all over the bloodied wounds. It was all to no avail. The poor chicken died despite our best efforts.

I'll admit I wasn't very proud of our chickens after this event. The sad thing was, after we removed the one they had hurt so much, they found another target and that chicken soon looked as bad as the first. Though we tried everything we could think of to prevent this from happening, nothing worked. The chickens couldn't be trained to be nice to each other.

I've often reflected on that incident. Sadly, I have observed that same behavior in some of the people that I have known. Why is it that we tend to pick on those who are somewhat different? Instead of trying to help those who are struggling, we sometimes do just the opposite, causing them more pain.

None of us are perfect--we've all made mistakes in this area, I'm sure. But wouldn't it make for a better world if instead of being critical and judgmental, we stopped to consider that maybe we don't know all of the facts in a given situation? Maybe we should try to view each other as the Savior tried to teach--with love and understanding, realizing that we truly don't know someone else until we have literally walked a mile in their set of troubled shoes.

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