Another Look at Instinct

Yesterday I watched a flock of swallows, in tight formation, flying in one direction, suddenly shift their flight path and fly in another direction.  They moved instantaneously, as one, with not one straggler, not one that made the formation appear off-balance in any way.  There did not appear to be a leader, though surely there must have been one, and yet, there had to be some signal, some trigger that caused them all to change gears at exactly the same time.  It was an amazing sight.  In fact, they did it several times, this weaving back and forth, looping up and down, in and out, so flawlessly, as if they were highly trained synchronized swimmers of the air.

I’ve seen the same behavior at the aquarium with schools of small fish, or on film with herds of wildebeest.  I don’t know how that works with animals, but we humans, if we ever had anything closely resembling that in our prehistoric history, long ago lost that instinct to follow the group mindlessly.

Or have we?  We’ve all experienced adolescents, ours or somebody else’s, following the crowd.  I suppose you could argue that it’s not instinct, really, but just the desire not to be left behind or singled out.  In a way, that is their survival instinct kicking in, isn’t it?

My husband and I have been married nearly forty years, and neither of us would claim to be the “leader” of our family.  We are individuals with our own minds, people who think independently.  And when my husband smiles sweetly and says, “Yes, dear,” every time I ask him to do something, that’s his survival instinct kicking in, too.

About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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19 Responses to Another Look at Instinct

  1. Robin says:

    The flight of the swallows, their swoops and dives without crashing into each other, fascinates me.

    Your husband sounds like mine. A very wise man. 😉

  2. Leah says:

    There’s no question who is the leader in our house — Sophie. Actually, it’s Casey the beagle dog.

  3. Huffygirl says:

    You’ve probably done your share of “yes dears” too if you’ve lasted 40 years I bet. I think it all evens out, and hey, the husbands aren’t the ones that have to give birth, so they need to make some concessions for THAT sacrifice.

  4. Amy says:

    I also saw butterfly migration in Florida some years ago. Fascinating too!
    Maybe, because human’s instinct also is mixed with competition ingredient.. That is so sweet of your husband to say “Yes, dear” every time.

  5. Shary Hover says:

    Considering some of the fads we all follow, I think people do swarm, herd, flock, like animals, but we’re not as elegant. I wonder what language animals use to communicate a change in direction. Is it a certain call? A certain movement? Always beautiful to watch.

  6. E.C. says:

    Too funny. I’d never thought of instinct in this manner. I know I’m awestruck at brds, fish and animal herds that follow fast with turns and motions seemingly without difficulty.
    I’m happy to hear that your relationship is much like mine in that there is no boss. I love your funny about your husband’s survival instinct kicking in. he sounds like my husband too. 🙂

  7. It is fascinating to watch the intuition of nature in action. To o bad we can’t be more like those swallows… we know they had a true leader because he/she blended in and was such an integral part of the group that they were unidentifiable. I spent a summer on Monhegan Island, ME watching the cycle of the monarch butterflies from caterpillar to butterfly. They take exactly the same route to Mexico every year. Their descendents will follow that same path to return to Monhegan the following year. Many of the world’s geniuses have created inventions by observing nature and building on those concepts. Loved the post!

    • Coming East says:

      Great comment, Carol. My friend Linda, who was a Spanish teacher in her other life, used to go to Mexico to see the return of the monarchs. How wonderful that you saw them at the other end.

  8. What an awesome sight to witness. What a wonderful husband you have who wisely says “Yes dear”.

    • Coming East says:

      I’m sure I’ve seen that sight many times before, Georgette, without really paying attention to it like I did this time. And yes, hubby learned that lesson well many years ago.

  9. pattisj says:

    I’ve seen swallows flying in formation at my daughter’s in northern Va. They are so fast! Had to laugh with your last sentence, that explains a lot. 😉

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