Ditch the Pecking Order

June 30, 2010 |  by

More from The Lucifer Principle..

Bloom recalls Norwegian naturalist Thorlief Schjelderup-Ebbe, who after the First World War studied the habits of chickens on his parents’ farm. Schjelderup-Ebbe noticed that at feeding times, something peculiar happened:

First a rather regal-looking hen stepped up to the container of grain and proceeded to dine. The others simply watched. Then another came forward to partake of the meal, and eventually stepped aside. Yet another marched in to take her turn…Every day, the same bird went first, the same went second, and so on down the line.

Schjelderup-Ebbe had discovered that in the world of chickens there is a social hierarchy, a division into aristocrats and commoners–a lower, middle and upper class. The alert researcher called the phenomenon a “pecking-order.”

Pecking orders have big implications. They can even effect how we look. Among monkeys, says Bloom, those at the top strut around with “a regal posture.” Monkeys on the lower rungs of the order “skulk around stoop shouldered.” Sounds like our society, doesn’t it?

Position in the pecking order…readjusts your lifestyle, your chances of survival, your sex life, and your physiology. Humans not only undergo the same changes when they’re under society’s heel, but their blood pressure goes up…The result is an increase in the odds of heart attack and stroke, and a loss of mental swiftness.

After a while, top or bottom position in the pecking order gets to be a habit. Numerous studies show that a creature who has won a fight is more likely to win the next one. An animal who has lost barely shuffles through his next contest. The odds are high he’ll lose again.

But don’t be fooled. As a human, you can opt-out of the pecking order. Status and competition pervade our lives, but much of that is an illusion. Ultimately, our real competition is with ourselves. Are we the most we can be – or not? If we climb the social ladder but remain a shadow of ourselves, we’re still the losers. When we let our circumstances and others dictate the way we look and feel, we’re just feeding into the old game.

As humans, we live in a pecking order of one. We’re king (or peasant) of our own roost.

Just another way we’re different than animals – if we want to be.


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