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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Reflections

It's Mother's Day. Sword has two friends over, and they are playing happily and noisily in the backyard. Bow watches them. I wish he could have friends over, too.

When the girls' mother dropped them off for the sleepover last night, I was a little nervous. I didn't know what she would think of my house, our living arrangement, Bow. But she mentioned that she had taken her girls briefly to a Mother's Day function at her church on Friday, (one to which she had invited me, but I couldn't go), and it turns out that they hadn't stayed there long, because somebody there said she "wasn't doing it right." "Doing what right?" I asked, confused. "Raising them." I immediately relaxed, and there was a bond between us. "Well, some people don't think I'm doing it right with him," I said, motioning with my head at Bow.

Women can be so hard on one another. It's so easy to point a finger and judge. Primatologists are no different. Couldn't we just admit that there might be more than one way to "do it right"?

Some primatologists are fighting to keep chimpanzees in the wild. It takes a lot of range land to support a group of chimpanzees, but with the spread of human population, there is less and less land available in their natural habitats. I recently discovered the blog of a fellow primatologist in which she recounts struggles with local herdsmen. The herdsmen are losing their ranges to agriculture. The farmers are losing their land to industry. Chimpanzees and herdsmen are now in competition for the same lands, and who do you think is going to win?

Rather than say that it's a lost struggle, I will say this: I wish my fellow primatologists every success in their endeavors. And, meanwhile, I am following another, alternative strategy: I am trying to find a place for chimpanzees in a less natural setting. In order to be successful with my stategy, I need Bow's cooperation.

But why should he cooperate? some people have asked me. After all, he's just a chimpanzee, and what I am asking of him is not "natural". Well, do you think the way we currently live is natural for me, or for my daughter or for her friends or their mother? Did you know that the way of raising children among humans has only very recently diverged from the way chimpanzees raise their young?

We are all related. We are all struggling to provide for our young under a situation of limited resources. Instead of chewing each other out over every small difference, couldn't we just wish each other every success on our parallel paths through life?

Happy Mother's Day, everyone!

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