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.