Our animals live together like one big happy extended family…one noisy, pushy and demanding big happy family. Goats, sheep, minis, donkeys and horses all share the same pastures and barn space. It works out quite nicely and harmoniously…most of the time.
There are always lessons to be learned from watching our animal family. Here’s what I have observed. Despite the open floor plan, at the end of the day, sheep still hang with sheep, goats still fraternize with goats and donkeys still pester other donkeys. No matter how integrated our farm environment is, no matter how much I strive to promote equality in love and attention, sheep still hang with sheep. And you know what? It’s not a bad thing.
Really, you ask? Really. Let me share with you what Anabelle and Zak, my two youngest sheep, have taught me.
6 Lessons I Have Learned from Annabelle and Zak
- Comfort. The comfort that we derive from hanging with people who are similar to us does not mean that we don’t or shouldn’t venture out and mingle with the goats and the donkeys of the world. It’s how we expand our social palette. It’s how we stretch our comfort zone to new and interesting perimeters. Zak and Annabelle are rather timid sheep (not an unusual characteristic for many sheep) and it’s rather fun to watch how they integrate with the other animals. They do their “venturing” rather surreptitiously in the guise of grazing. You know, wander a little and then graze….wander a little further and then graze…all the while, slowly integrating themselves into a group of animals that force them to stretch a bit. Subtle social networking. I find that, in unfamiliar social settings, I exhibit very similar behavior. I wander around the edge for a bit and then stop to acclimate. Then I wander a bit further into the center of activity, and then stop to acclimate. We need to continually touch base with the comfort within ourselves that then allows us to take chances in unfamiliar territory.
- Cooperation. Working in pairs (or threes or fours) really makes experimenting with increasing your social network a lot easier. Annabelle would get swallowed up by the gregariousness of the goats and probably not want to venture out with them again if she had to do it alone. But, with Zak, her trusty companion, the outgoing goats don’t seem so intimidating. And maybe she’ll even try another goat event in the future. I always do better in new environments if I am with someone I know. I am braver, more social and generally much more relaxed. Cooperating within the realms of friendship to enhance our experiences really turns out to be a win/win. Ask Annabelle.
- Sharing. Food and beverages really enhances the networking experience…it’s not all about work, work, work. After all, most of us are social creatures to some degree. And food is a great equalizer. Most of Zak and Annabelle’s mingling is influenced by their desire for food and by sharing the experience, there is an openness that seems to get rid of barriers. When attending networking events that involve socially acceptable noshing, I find that there is almost an ice breaker like effect. And, let’s face it…if all else fails, you can always talk about the food! Just love this year’s alfalfa crop….
- Collaboration. The sheep and the goats and the minis and the donkeys really do their best work when they are collaborating. Not compromising. Compromise can lead to resentment and, resentment isn’t pretty if you have horns. Collaboration leads to solutions and results. A tree branches full of delicious leaves falls into the pasture…goats manipulate it into an approachable position, minis give it a nibble and realize they really aren’t browsers and quietly leave…goats frenetically attack the scrumptious leaves only to realize that no one is really taking it away from them so they can relax…sheep approach with caution and sense that their presence is tolerated. A successful collaborative effort with no hard feelings. In the human animal social strata, collaborative efforts are usually much more empowering than compromised efforts. Collaborating to create connections can lead to fruitful relationships of mutually beneficial outcomes.
- Encouragement. Twice a year we move the goats and sheep from the “summer pasture” to the “winter pasture”. The goats are easy…they are suckers for a bucket of grain and will follow you anywhere if you happen to have one. Annabelle and Zak are not so gullible. They need encouragement and the best source of that encouragement is not from other species…the best source is from their own. If we can get Zak to understand the benefit of moving with the goats, we know Zak will give encouragement and reinforcement to Annabelle. So it is in the human animal world. When we are wary of change, encouragement from our peers, especially those that we interact with regularly, really does help.
- Trust. And finally, but perhaps most importantly, trust. I see evidence of the power of trust every day in my animal family. The trust within their own species is palpable but the trust that develops over time inter-species is heart warming and earned. Trust is not something that the animal kingdom takes lightly. Nor should they. When placed in social situations that are new to me, trust plays a major role in determining my ability to be me…to relax…to open up. Conversely, when I am with my “posse” my trust in them is understood and implicit…and respected. I know they will never let me down.