Lessons from Geese

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Years ago, I was emceeing an annual awards event for the queer community. With that task came delivering opening remarks. I thought I had stumbled on something brilliant based on listening to and watching the fall geese that filled the skies periodically that fall. Their group flight seemed the perfect metaphor for community, leadership, survival, and perseverance. Well apparently, around that same time, that very same metaphor was making the rounds. It still is.

The leadership coach Lolly Daskal breaks down the geese metaphor this way:

Unity. A flock of great northern geese will fly thousands of miles in a perfect V formation. As each bird moves its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird that is following. It’s estimated that their formation flying is 70 percent more efficient than flying alone.

We can get where we are going if we don’t try and do it alone. Rely on the strength of community.

Interdependence. At a distance the flock appears to be guided by a single leader. But the lead bird does not in fact guide the formation. When the lead bird tires, it rotates back in the formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the birds in front.

Leadership is best shared…True leadership means interdependence.

Encouragement. Each flock finds its own unique rhythm and spirit. The pulsating sound of the huge flapping wings excites and energizes the entire formation; the geese enthusiastically honk from behind to encourage those in front to keep up their speed.

We need to make sure we are honking words of encouragement to each other. As opposed to making disparaging remarks or demanding too much from our leadership. Quit asking if ‘we’re almost there yet – you’ll know when we are.

Loyalty. When a member of the flock becomes sick or wounded, two geese drop out of the formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it is able to fly again—then they soar off together to catch up with the flock.

We don’t abandon one another when the going gets tough. We accompany and attend to one another.

 For the geese, there is no thinking all of this through: it is instinct. It isn’t even perseverance: it just is. And yet it is the perfect example of perseverance. We often conjure up images of iron will as well as aggressive physical strength to persevere. But that is only one way of persevering. Look at the give and take of the geese as they journey. Leadership is not taken but shared. They fill in for one another, letting the leader rest when they need to while still keeping a forward momentum. Nothing is lost in this exchange but so much is accomplished and preserved.

For many in the political and religious left, this is a time for a perseverance that will go the distance. The flock needs to share leadership allowing those who need to rest to rest. And honk encouragement rather than criticism to those who happen to be at the front of the “v” at the moment. And there will be those who must drop down and out for a while to regain themselves. Let them not do so in isolation but rather let us be by their side.

Remember these words from our teal hymnal from the song, “Woyaya:”

We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
We’ll know we’re there.
We will get there, heaven knows how we will get there,
We know we will.

This is perseverance…

Peace, Shalom, Salaam,

Rev. Lo