We humans like to think of ourselves as advanced beings, intellectually superior to other animals, granted dominion over the creatures of land, sea and sky by a higher power. How can we not be superior?
Take a look at your typical domesticated canine, for instance. Despite a rich history of anthropomorphisizing the skills and talents our beloved best friends, what can we point to as being their greatest accomplishment? The most advanced thing our poodle can do is flip her empty food bowl around to let us know she's hungry. That and a reasonably sound mastery of her bowel movements are really all she has to her credit.
Some domestic pets aren't even that smart.
Years ago I had a teddy bear hamster name Bologna. I was all he had. If not for me, he would have slept in pea-soaked shavings surrounded by mounds of his own poop, foraging for his own little pellets of food. I kept him clean and fed, bought him a wheel and a plastic ball to run around in, and even lavished him with special treats. The worst thing I ever did to him was name him Bologna. But every time the evil little fluff ball could, he'd bite me.
I suppose you could say I should have learned the "once bitten, twice shy" lesson but I stubbornly waited for him to learn the "don't bite the hand that feeds you" lesson. Neither of us gave in, but since the lifespan of a healthy teddy bear hamster is only three years, you could say I won out simply by the fact of not being a hamster.
However, while my life expectancy might dwarf that of a semi-exotic rodent, a recent exercise in corporate team building got me wondering just how far our species has danced away from monkeys, as a commentator on BBC America Radio recently described the evolutionary process.
If you've never participated in a high ropes course, let me explain it for you. Imagine your basic playground jungle gym. Now bring it into the woods, feed it anabolic steroids for a few months, hang some ropes from the highest points, and there you go. Throw in a couple tons of dangling logs, a few rock-climbing walls, and some port-a-johns to complete the scene. The entire complex looks like a minimalist Cirque du Soleil stage.
Despite the safety of the groin-compactors the instructors like to call harnesses, it's difficult for me to be comfortable with the idea of trusting a group of people that can't manage to turn in weekly reports on time, or even agree on how they should be filled out.
Honestly, we can't retain basic instructions long enough to properly carry out the most basic of our job responsibilities, so why exactly am I supposed to be satisfied with a four-minute review on the importance of belaying? Doesn't the instructor realize most of us are too focused on trying to pry 3-inch wide straps of canvas out of our asses to understand what she's saying about climbing safety?
In order to survive the day -- by which I mean avoiding a scene in which I am peer-pressured forty feet into the air by a boisterous mob of cheering adrenaline junkies -- I volunteered to be one of the first to go up the rock-climbing wall. When finished with that, I climbed a ladder to a thing that looked like two obese telephone poles mating in mid-air while dangling from an unreasonably thin wire.
Although my success was middling with both events, I admit to finding the experience invigorating. It seems preposterous the amount of satisfaction, and splinters, one can get from climbing a pole. All good things do come to an end, unfortunately, and once high enough for my liking I asked to be lowered to the ground.
The most entertaining part of the day for me was listening to one of my coworkers proclaim the animal-like qualities of the strong performers. One team member who scrambled to the top of a pole in a matter of seconds was praised as having the climbing skills of a lemur, while another was matter-of-factly labeled a spider monkey.
I'm not sure what animal my attempts might have called to mind. Probably not something too complimentary but I think I'm okay with that. My feet were designed for flat surfaces, not the rough rounded edges of towering obstacle courses. Let the lemurs and spider monkeys of the world have their fun scaling heights and leaping into the great abyss tethered only to a vague hope in humanity and a first-time belayer.
I'll keep my feet on the ground and ponder whether some of us haven't danced a little farther away than others.
© 2010 Mark Feggeler