The goats are mean. Not to us, and not even to the dog (although I feel certain they would kick her ass if they felt they needed to). But to each other, especially to the weakest in the bunch. Currently, the lowest goat on the totem pole is Mabel, or sometimes we lovingly refer to her as Martha, or Minerva, just for fun.
But after the Fourth of July fireworks great goat escape when she fell in the hole (you can read that blog post here) she got mastitis for the second time and has never been the same. Now she’s just not as big or as strong she was, which has left her vulnerable to bullying. She gets chased away every time she tries to eat, the others often butting her in the stomach with their horns.
The next one up the pecking order is a goat we call “Crazy Legs” because she contracted a virus that left her back legs wobbily. Her two hind appendages cross this way and that, giving her a staggering sway that makes her look like she is drunk. She is slower than the others, although she also gets around just fine. Yet, like Mabel, she is more vulnerable, which means that she too is often bullied. Perhaps because of that, she is now the main bullier of Mabel. In fact, it might be fair to say that Crazy Legs is obsessed with Mabel, constantly following her to make sure her adversary does not get to stop and eat much at all.
It is just nature I suppose, that “survival of the fittest” concept at play. The stronger keep the weaker in their place, but it is brutal to watch. I’ve been thinking of taking Mabel out of the group, keeping her up by the house as a sort of pet goat. But then what will happen to Crazy Legs? Would she then be the low goat in the group, receiving all of the bullying? No matter who you take out, there will always be someone who has to bear the brunt of being the weakest in the group.
In other words, it feels a lot like watching a bunch of middle schoolers.
Which has made me reflect on the behavior of not only goats, but of humans. We too have a tendency to pick on the one that is different or the weakest. Middle school bullies are notorious, and now we have those who harrass school board members or people running for office. Social media trolls are everywhere and political ads are downright uncivil.
Can’t we be better than goats?
Arguably, compassion is the one thing that makes humans stand out from the rest of the animal kingdom —that and walking upright, our bigger brain size, and, of course, our ability to make ice cream. We can help one another - much as chimpanzees do - and to work together to survive much like a herd of elephants. But the ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes—even when we don’t agree with them—is a uniquely human trait.
The close cousin of compassion is also responsibility. The ability to take blame is a quality that no other animal has— the goats cannot say they are sorry to one another, nor can our ducks make amends for their past mistakes (and they make a lot). But humans can, and should.
The Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana just passed which encourages us to take stock in our behavior over the past year and to remedy any wrongs we may have committed. It asks us to take responsibility for our actions and for how we have impacted others.
Even if a creator created all animals equally and we are no more “important” than a goat or a chicken, we sure as hell can act better than they do. Helping each other out, accepting culpability, and understanding various points of view are what make us one of the most complex and important of “God’s creations.” We are stewards of the land, our planet, and each other.