We have four chickens. I love them all equally. I think they produce eggs fairly equally, even though Dorothy may have slowed down a little. Dorothy is the oldest. Yes, I named them. Dorothy Parker, Sarah Jessica Parker, Charlie Parker and Tony Parker. They are the Parkers. They live behind our house. They have a large fenced in area just for them, but Sarah Jessica has learned how to let herself in and out. I knew she was smart. After listening to a podcast on TedTalks this morning, they may all be even smarter than I think. Here’s a bit of it:
An evolutionary biologist at Purdue University named William Muir studied chickens. He was interested in productivity — I think it’s something that concerns all of us — but it’s easy to measure in chickens because you just count the eggs. He wanted to know what could make his chickens more productive, so he devised a beautiful experiment. Chickens live in groups, so first of all, he selected just an average flock, and he let it alone for six generations. But then he created a second group of the individually most productive chickens — you could call them superchickens — and he put them together in a superflock, and each generation, he selected only the most productive for breeding.
After six generations had passed, what did he find? Well, the first group, the average group, was doing just fine. They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. What about the second group? Well, all but three were dead. They’d pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest.
Now, as I’ve gone around the world talking about this and telling this story in all sorts of organizations and companies, people have seen the relevance almost instantly, and they come up and they say things to me like, “That superflock, that’s my company.” Or, “That’s my country.” Or, “That’s my life.”
Turns out, that chickens aren’t so different from us humans. We are taught over and over that we have to compete with everyone. We are shown, by so many, more than ever now it seems, in order to be successful we have to put someone else down. If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest, then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live.
The speaker, Margaret Heffernan, goes on to say, “I realized how much more we could give each other if we just stopped trying to be superchickens… and there’s a lot at stake now, and we won’t solve our problems if we expect it to be solved by a few supermen or superwomen. Now we need everybody, because it is only when we accept that everybody has value that we will liberate the energy and imagination and momentum we need to create the best beyond measure.”
We have so much to learn from each other. This is why I write. Why I paint. I want to find the best in people. Possibly even myself. I know what brilliance surrounds me, in my family, my friends, my community, my chickens. We do all have value. And what if we saw that? What if we brought that out in each other? Amazing. Some might even say super!