What we can learn from the Serengeti…

I was watching ‘Serengeti’ on BBC 1 the other evening. A wildlife programme about how the animals in the wild interact with each other. A lot of people hated it because it was edited to be more like a film than a wildlife documentary. I let the outraged keyboard warriors on Twitter, whose part time occupation is to be permanently angry, think what they like. I enjoyed it.

There were several parts that stuck with me. There was a lioness, Kali, who had given birth to cubs and was kicked out of her pride because the cubs had not been fathered by one of the males in her pride. As a single mother, she has to now protect her cubs and feed them, facing dangers all on her own. Another narrative was about a pack of hyenas who were led by a strong and intelligent matriarch – who sacrificed her life so that her daughter could survive. She then became the new, reluctant leader of the pack – cowering under the responsibility of this new role.

People’s criticism of the programme was that the ‘stories’ weren’t real. That it was the equivalent of a Disney programme because of the anthropomorphic nature of storytelling. I saw what people meant – but I took a different message away. I looked past the contrived nature of the programme. I looked past the anthropomorphism. What I saw was two mothers, fighting against all odds to protect their children. That much was true. That the instinct to protect the children that you have given birth to, is the most powerful instinct of all – regardless of whether you are a human or an animal.

You see, watching that programme I was thinking about the choices. Some people go through life thinking that they have no choice but to stay in the situation that they are in. Often they are bullied into believing that they are worthless, disgusting, disappointing – that their only option in life is to remain in a situation that is damaging to them.

Choices are more difficult to make when you have responsibilities on your shoulders. Children. Mortgage. Mouths to feed. Bills to pay. Not much money to play with. The fact that people in these circumstances stay and rise up to face their responsibilities full on, without backing down, without backing away – they feel that they have no choice. But the truth is – they do. They can walk away. They can lead their own life and do whatever they want to do. But the choice of doing that – and the consequences of what would happen, are unthinkable.

When I was watching ‘Serengeti’, two of the male adult lions were about to tear the tiny lion cubs apart. They had been fathered by another lion. They didn’t belong in the pride. A code had been broken. The mother, Kali, had a choice. Watch her children die, whilst she remained in the safety of the pride – or fight. As soon as she saw that her cubs were threatened by the menacing lions, she reacted with such ferocity – willing to fight both of the lions, willing to lay her life down for her cubs. It was a choice – but an instinctive one. One that she had no choice over. One that that she made before she could even think. By making that choice, she was exiled. Leaving the security of the pride, she had to leave with her cubs and survive – somehow.

We make choices in all aspects of our lives. The choice to remain in employment in places where we might be treated badly, unappreciated and undervalued. We sell ourselves the narrative that ‘it’s like that everywhere’. It’s not. You’re making a choice to stay in a situation that is destroying you. It’s not like that everywhere. You might tell yourself – it’s not that easy at my age to move on. Nobody else will want me. I’ll just see out my days here…. Well how do you know that? How do you know that nobody else will want your experience? How do you know that your personality isn’t exactly what somebody else needs? You’ve been sold a tale – and you’ve believed it. How do you know that’s true? Why do you accept that?

What inspired me whilst watching ‘Serengeti’, was the fact that within us all, there is a fight, there is a will to survive. There is a will to protect ourselves and those that we love.

Within the story of the hyenas, the matriarch sacrificed herself for her daughter. The daughter, Zalika, then had to step up to becoming the new leader – and to do this, she had to gain the respect of the pack by fighting against other predators and crucially, bringing back food for the pack. There was an opportunity for her to find food for her pack. However, she lost her confidence and let the opportunity pass by. As she was about to give up, she looked back at her pack, saw their eyes on her – understanding the responsibility that was on her shoulders, she went back and fought again to snatch the food away and was victorious.

Each of us, is the hero of our own story. We aren’t so different from animals in our need to survive. In our need to protect the ones we love. As you are the hero of your own story, behave accordingly. Don’t tolerate people putting you down, or treating you as though you are a lesser being. Don’t put up with being someone else’s second choice – and treating you that way. Move on. We lose confidence in ourselves – I know that better than anybody else. But that is a feeling that you have to fight against. We can never let ourselves believe that we don’t deserve to be treated well.

Finally, the most incredible thing that I saw was what happened when Zalika, the hyena, wanted to give up. She looked back and saw who was watching her. And that alone drove her forwards to fighting on. Think about who drives you. Who do you see when you look back and makes you realise that you can’t give up? Look at yourself through their eyes. How would they want you to be treated? Are you being treated that way? If so, wonderful.

If not, what are you going to do about it?

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