May 12, 2013

Animals understand fairness

Lately, I've been feeding the squirrels and small birds in front of my house rather than at the rear, where I'd been feeding them for years. I switched because a flock of geese congregates behind my house. Over the years, I've learned that if I feed them, more and more geese arrive until there are hundreds in my yard. I like geese, but not that much.

So for the past few weeks, I've been putting seed and peanuts in a planter out front. It's about 2 1/2 feet off the ground, as in "away from the geese on the ground". I figured the geese on the other side of the house would never know. Right. They saw birds flying away from the planter with seed and nuts in their mouths -- and this really upset them. Other animals were eating food that they saw as rightfully theirs. It was unfair.

As a result, Milo began to accost me when I left the house. (He's the leader of the flock and we've been friends for years.) He would step into my path to block my way and give me hell. It was just talk, mind you. After all, he's my friend. But I could see how upset he was.

I finally understood why he was doing this. It wasn't because I stopped feeding the flock, it was because I stopped feeding them while continuing to feed the other animals -- and that's unfair. Milo gets this, and it made him mad at me. I finally grokked his message. He's right. It's unfair and I can't treat him like that. So I've gone back to tossing the seeds and nuts out back. Whoever gets them, gets them.

This calmed Milo down right away. Why? Because I'm being fair to all. Animals understand this as well as we do. (And surely this is one of the traits that played into the development of a sense of morality in humans.) Fairness: it's not just for people.

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