Geese, and The Art of Peace by Kim Gold

a class="addthis_button_google_plusone" g:plusone:size="small">

Aikido is a martial art known as “the art of peace.” It is both a form of self-defense and a philosophy of world peace. Many of us will train for years and never “use” our Aikido skills in a physical altercation. However, what will happen, inevitably, is that we will find ourselves with a heightened awareness of conflict in non-physical areas. That is where the training really applies. The times when this has happened to me personally are too numerous to count (it can be daily), but the most recent one is what I will write about here.

As many who know me have discovered, I have become a local “goose champion” as I have tried to convince my town to abandon their plan to exterminate a flock of nine geese that reside at the Scarsdale Library pond, plus about 100 other geese, for a $5,000 contract with the USDA.

 

I never gave much specific thought to geese before this issue. I have always loved nature in general, but not geese more than anything else.  However, when the extermination plan crossed my path, I became concerned. My first reaction was “there must be another way besides killing them.”

I investigated and found that the main reason people objected to this flock of geese was because they poop on the grass. They also were scared that absent any predators, this flock would multiply beyond control. However, it is those same people who were concerned that coyotes made the neighborhood unsafe for children and pets. I saw a disturbing trend of directing fear and anger toward anything in the natural world that interfered with suburban life.  In this case, we were not talking about people “living off the land” with a deep reverence for nature, and killing animals to survive. We were talking about affluent suburbanites who wanted to handle their irritation with the tool of violence.

I learned that there were simple and cheap solutions to the issue of feces and population management, but I won’t get into them here. What I am interested in is how my Aikido training played out in all aspects of this issue. I believe it was my Aikido training that made me react so strongly, first with the objection to a violent solution, but then to the way I handled the conflict.

I strove to look for the commonalities with my opponents when trying to make my case against the killing. In Aikido, this is akin to “blending” with your opponent. As I spoke before the Mayor and Board of Trustees, I appealed to the town’s values, which we all shared: education, progressive leadership, intelligence, compassion, and wise use of our tax money. I also was certainly able to empathize with my opponent’s dislike for goose poop, because, well, it’s poop, and who likes that. And I was even able to entertain people’s desire (which I personally find totally irrational) to not have any geese at all on the library pond. I was willing to offer my assistance landscaping the area to deter geese, simply as an act of peace-building. As another gesture of peace-building, I reached out to the very people who initiated the complaint and offered any help I could in finding ways to clean the grounds.

Another important Aikido principle was re-directing of energy, particularly negative energy. I discovered that geese are a hot button issue in suburbia. Who knew? There are people who hate them, with a capital H (direct quote).  There were people who spoke as if the entire species should be eliminated from the planet. Comments like “no one wants them,” “kill them all,” and “off with their heads” were disturbing. Training in an energy-focused art like Aikido, I have become attuned to energetic “vibes.” These were some negative vibes that were flying around and I was energetically affected in a negative way while in their presence. I found that it was best to get out of the way and to discipline my mind not to dwell on them. Of course, whenever possible, I would try to blend. However, sometimes people are entrenched in anger and irritation, and the best thing you can do is move out of the way and let them run themselves into a wall (which they eventually will).

My pre-Aikido self would have probably handled this much differently. I would have been more combative. I would have been irritated and focused on our differences, and recognized few similarities. I would have addressed the local government as “them” rather than “us” and most certainly have initiated a spirit of confrontation rather than collaboration. Of course, this WAS a confrontation, but at all moments open to the possibility of resolution. Most likely, however, I would probably not have gotten involved at all. I would have read the news, chalked it up to a cynical worldview that people are horrible and our planet is going to hell in a handbasket, and moved on.  But it was my training that made me react with a positive, optimistic spirit of action and perseverance. And it was the influence of my training in an art that bills itself as a path to world peace that motivated me to go out and take action, rather than sit at home and grumble.

Within a couple of short weeks, I wrote editorials offering alternate solutions; maintained a constant presence on comments sections of related articles; offered education to the public about geese; helped my daughter to organize a petition of her classmates which gathered over 240 students, and personally delivered it to Village Hall; and networked with other like-minded people working for wildlife. Throughout this whole time, I learned so much about Canada geese and have developed quite an affinity for this animal. Did it work? Well, there was a small victory in that the town postponed its original plan and committed to looking at alternatives. As of this time, it is unclear what course they will take. However, one key element in my training is to NOT focus on the outcome. Moment by moment we take the necessary steps toward peace.

This is a consistent theme with many spiritual paths —non-attachment to the goal. That one is a hard one, since I truly do not want to see the geese killed. But just like in training, you keep at it, moment to moment not as concerned with the goal, but the action and the spirit. And Aikido also teaches that you never know how far the ripple effect of positive action will extend. Sometimes, in spite of everything you did, you may end up with a result that you did not want (i.e. if the town ends up killing the geese) but there may be other unforeseen positive outcomes in many areas. I know one is that I am awaiting the materials to become a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, in an effort to help wildlife. That would never have happened if I hadn’t practiced the art of peace.

 

Summary
Article Name
Geese, and the Art of Peace
Author
  • Gregory

    It is well known that with most predators eliminated from habitat populated by humans, some wild species overpopulate the area, disrupting the ecological balance and bringing forth extinction of other life forms, to say nothing of inconveniencing the local people. There are lots of examples of such man-made aftermath.

    Wolves hunted down, deer population has grown far beyond what it would have been in a truly wild environment; they damage crops, they are an often cause of deadly car accidents. Men eliminate mosquitoes, which leave many birds and fish without main food source. Pigeons and sea gulls flock near city dumps for free food etc.

    I happens so that we the humans have procreated beyond proportion and appropriated space that had belonged to other species before. As no one would expect human beings to withdraw and give up their ground, a reasonable thing would be to assume that the world is roughly split into three categories:
    1. Natural preserves, woods, parks etc where nature is left alone and is aloud to go its own course.
    2. Human habitat
    3. Borderline zones where wild nature and humans co-exist more or less peacefully.

    Kim’s concern is basically of the second category: wild life in the human habitat. Geese on New York stadiums and parks is a great example. The fact is that these “urban” geese” do infringe on human habitat. In a matter of speaking, they become “illegal aliens” once they settle in the city line. They do become a nuisance, and then a problem, and then possibly a health issue.

    Where is the solution? There is no such thing as THE solution. It is a never-ending dispute on whether people should interfere with the environment or not.
    How far are prepared to extend our hospitality to these nice bird that have reasonably chosen a safer winter in the city to the old-way flying far south
    One point of view maintains

    • Gregory

      Continued. Sorry, I accidentally pressed “enter”.

      … that we should control the wild life population through hunting and other discouraging actions.

      Some believe that we should create special zones for them that the animals would find more attractive than cities and move there. That would work – until the animals, enjoying the unnaturally safe conditions, filled the new grounds and started looking for more space.

      The truth is that, while man has learned a little how to curb his appetites and be considerate of the nearby nature, wild life has always acted and will act on instinct commanding it to reproduce as much as possible.

      How to cope with that wild life’s basic instinct and its consequences? I think the Aikido way would be to let it go as it goes, gently re-directing the path of events if it happens to be bumping into us. We should reasonably conserve what can be conserved, be kind and broad-minded in mutual cohabitation zones, and be keep urban zones to ourselves.

      • Kim

        Hi Gregory,
        Thank you for your thoughtful comments! I didn’t get into the details of my alternate solutions, but some of them touched upon points you made. I am in favor of population control for the geese. I am also a huge proponent of curbing population growth for humans as I think the planet can better sustain a human population a fraction of what we have today. For the geese though, it is simple. Addle their eggs every year or two. Or, there is birth control that can be fed to them in bread.

        With regard to your breaking down the zones into 3 categories, I would have to argue that even in so-called wild zones, the government interferes and “manages” wildlife according to any number of vested interests. The USDA Wildlife Services is making a ton of money in contracts to go into areas and kill wildlife, even federally protected wildlife, in areas that are supposed to be wildlife sanctuaries and preserves. They did this in Jamaica Bay Bird “Refuge” not too long ago. Wild spaces are becoming fewer and fewer, and human concerns seem to trump all else, sadly. I think the question is one of entitlement. Are we entitled to a privileged place on this planet by virtue of being human? Is there any set area that we would designate as truly wild and immune to our interference and truly commit to that? Or are areas wild just because we haven’t gotten to them yet? Once we see a need that can be fulfilled by moving into a wild area, it is only a matter of time before that area becomes a human habitat. And what of interdependence?

  • Jason

    At the outset, I just want you to know that I think this is a wonderful thing and I really love the way that you’ve incorporated or expanded your training outside the dojo. I think it’s something for others to learn from, and it is something that we should all aspire to – that is, to take what we learn out of the dojo and into our daily lives, making the world around us a better place. I think that should always be the larger goal of what we train for.

    Having said that, I learned long ago that you shouldn’t believe anything you hear, and only believe half of what you see. What I’ve heard (in newspapers, online, etc.) is that these geese that were to be killed in Scarsdale would’ve been donated to a homeless shelter as food for the needy. If that is in fact the case, I’m not sure that I have anything against that.

    Just to back up for a moment, I am against the needless, senseless and pointless killing of anything. There are however those rare occasions when I do feel like the dispatch is a necessary “evil” so to speak. And I do call it an “evil” because taking away or snuffing out anything’s God-given right to live is never a good thing, and one that must be the subject of much contemplation. So generally, my rule is if you are anything that interrupts my zone of personal space and could potentially do me or my family harm…it’s curtains for you. This would apply to a hornets nest in or around my house, any number of squirrels that have tried but failed to make my home their home, or perhaps some other obvious ones, rats, bedbugs, mosquitoes, etc. I am all for the quick and humane slaughter of anything that crosses that line and that may directly or indirectly be dangerous.

    Additionally, we as humans live and sustain our lives on the meat of animals and sea creatures. I am not opposed to this. I am also not opposed to the management of our wildlife, when done in an effort to make our society a safer and more balanced place to live. I do think both things are absolutely and vitally necessary.

    And yes, I do believe that by virtue of the fact that we are human beings, top of the food chain, we have a responsibility to preserve and maintain our society, our species, above and before anything else. If that means wildlife management, if that means eating animals, if that means fracking, OR if that means utilizing solar energy, or if that means electric cars, or if that means sustainable organic food processing – then we do it. But whatever is done – it must be done with responsibility, with the proper intent and with the idea and notion that this benefits humanity first, and look for and actively seek those options that also serve and benefit the animal kingdom, the plant kingdom, etc. That means we don’t do anything gratuitously, but instead seek to strike a balance so that harmony can be achieved. I can’t tell you that I have the answers or know in every circumstance what may be a better thing to do than another, but I do know a balancing test must be done and the risks/rewards considered and contemplated.

    In the immortal words of a very bright, kind and considerate man – “I’m just a normal guy, I’m not some animal rights person…” I mention that semi-jokingly, but I think its important to note. I am just a normal individual. And I like to believe that I consider all evidence and arguments presented and based on what’s available draw a fair conclusion, or base a theory, or opinion. I mostly believe that fanatics in general, fanaticism as a whole, don’t really do this – for one reason or another, to move forward a certain agenda, or advance some ideology, personal gain, whatever. That, in and of itself, becomes the inherent flaw in their fight, whatever that fight may be. It’s something you can’t get around; you can never achieve a responsible and considered conclusion, you can never reach balance or harmony… when your argument is the fruit born of fanaticism.

    I can only tell you that after thinking about what I’ve heard so far, balancing all information available to me, I do like the idea of taking those geese and feeding them to the homeless. It will obviously solve several problems – the hazard of the geese, the danger of the animal itself, its feces, its destruction of the environment, and their potentially exponential growth. The other problem it solves is one I happen to think is at least on par with all of the others mentioned, if not more so – the feeding of the homeless. I especially like the idea that the food going to the homeless (the geese) isn’t purchased at a supermarket, its not sold by a corporation for profit, its not a can of left overs that plucked from the bottom of your food pantry – its honest to goodness, all natural, God-given sustenance that is born of and lives off this land. The more I consider it, the better I feel about it, and the less downside I see to it.

    There are few things that you and I will ever do in this life that everyone will absolutely agree with – if any at all. There will always be downsides to just about anything we do, always potential risks involved, and always someone around to point them out. The idea is simply to attack the issues with a clear, wholehearted intent, with the thought that we have a great responsibility to ourselves, and our wold around us, and make the sincerest effort to come to conclusions after considered thought, with the hope of achieving balance and harmony.

    • Kim

      Hi Jason,
      If you can write a comment that long, you can write our next blog entry ! 🙂 Maybe expand upon your topic….

      Regarding the goose meat, it has been my stance that suburban and urban geese would have such a high pesticide load that it strikes me as unhealthy for anyone to eat them, and the fact the someone is needy is no reason to hold them to a lower health standard. Golf courses and suburban grasses are some of the most heavily-treated pesticide areas there are. Thus far, no govt agency has stepped up to actually inspect the meat for lead, pcbs, and other contaminants. Also, if they are killed with carbon monoxide gas, that could be an issue. Poultry is often stunned with this gas, but to inhale lethal amounts of it like the geese do? Also, it works out rather costly per pound of meat. It is hardly a freebie, as there is much processing that has to be done.

      I used to work in a soup kitchen, and we were all meticulously careful about the food quality, making sure things were cooked properly, because when the guests would get sick from something they ate, it was awful for them not having a bathroom or medical care. I would argue that food safety standards for the needy should be at least as high as those for anyone else.

      What concerns me is taking one action, with a nearly universal appeal, and using it as a means to justify another action whose ethical nature is not nearly as universally agreed upon. The paring of these two actions, in this case, leaves things ripe for manipulation. I like to keep ethical issues clean and separate to avoid muddying things, as ethical matters are often muddy enough. I can’t help but wonder if manipulation of public sentiment wasn’t behind this, as Scarsdale rarely puts feeding the homeless on the public agenda. There isn’t even a homeless shelter, or soup kitchen in Scarsdale. Pairing two ethical issues such as this leaves open the possibility for the motivation for one fuel the other, rather than solving each independently.

      For example, imagine a thought experiment: Imagine it was culturally acceptable to eat dogs and cats. Then imagine if we decided that we were going to use the 4 million dogs and cats killed each year in shelters to make fur coats and food for the needy. That might actually make a huge difference for cold, hungry homeless people. However, would that motivate us to address underlying problems of crowded animal shelters? Would that do anything to help address systemic issues of the needy?

      With the geese, what needs to be done is communities need to start addressing population issues early on. If every year we just go out and kill and eat them, and everyone is okay with it, that would be a disincentive to do the proactive population control that very directly targets the goose issue and an incentive to kill geese.

      Now, if this was a RURAL area…a different discussion could take place that included natural predators and hunting. But not so much in Scarsdale or urban areas.

  • admin

    Jason,

    We as humans do eat meat. I do myself as it is necessary for me to avoid serious illness. That is my reason. If I could exist on a purely vegetarian diet, it would cost less, produce less toxity to the environment (i.e. global warming) and in that case generally be healthier. As a result, I minimize the amount of meat that I do eat so it is only that which is necessary for me to avoid serious illness.

    Human life takes priority over animal life as humans suffer more when they die than do most animals. But animals don’t really like to be eaten, as you can imagine, so it is best to minimize that. So if it were a simple choice of too many geese and not enough food for the homeless, it would seem you have an argument.

    But upon inspection of the details, the argument goes away. Notwithstanding the concerns about the quality of the food and actually causing serious illness for the people who eat it, a slaughtered goose will be the single most expensive meal you will ever feed to a homeless person. The USDA is not very efficient. Killing 1 goose may cost well over $50 and supply less food than a chicken that costs $4. To the extent a homeless person can accept vegetarian food, you may be able to feed them a meal for more like $1. So for your limited resources going to feed the homeless, for every goose you kill you are causing 49 of the homeless to go hungry.

    So the next point is whether killing the geese will solve the problem of too many geese in the area. If it did, they would only need to kill them once. NYC kills them every year. Westchester killed them last summer and is evaluating it to see if it needs to be repeated and when. What happens is once you kill the resident geese, more move in. You never really get rid of them. The only real solution is to try to exterminate the entire species. So killing them is also the most expensive way to deal with the problem. A more moderate maintenance program costs less I suspect even on an ongoing basis where you just discourage the geese from settling the area.

    So when you look at your argument to get rid of the geese and feed the homeless in one shot, killing the geese doesn’t do a good job of either one. A better solution would be to discourage the geese from settling the area at a lower cost and use the savings to purchase many times the food you would have gotten if you killed the geese. This is why someone who is not an animal rights activist would be against killing the geese. It is expensive, ineffective and unethical. It is unethical because it is wrong to kill for essentially no reason. While many of your points are good, the devil is in the details with this situation…

    • Kim

      Oh man! I feel like I am back in Philosophy class again! What FUN. Bring on the debates…