Thursday, October 22, 2009

Oh, to be a Zebra

Oh to be a Zebra. Galant, freedom loviing, undomesticated beasts that are unfettered by stress.

According to "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers", Zebras live in the moment and they deal with it as it happens. There is no residual memory, no lingering cause and effect. No psychological imprint of the moment. Just the moment as it came and went.

As an example, imagine a herd of Zebras hanging around. A sea of black and white. Or is it white and black? Suddenly a predator attacks and the chase is on. Fight or flight kicks in and they run. We've all seen the nature clip. The predator wins, overtaking one of the herd. The Zebras return to calm, because the danger is over, and after all, they were not killed. Apparently, the Zebra does not manifest a lingering fear that rules the bliss loving, ranging feeding existence.

Translate that to the human experience. We have the fight or flight instinct, but apparently the cement jungle manifests a different kind of reaction. When we feel threatened by something, we don't physically run away. We do other things to avoid the confrontation. Some of us check out. Others try and build allies. Others attempt to create personal barriers. And then there's the head down, butt up strategy of staying below the wire so as not to be noticed. We've all experienced changes that feel disconcerting, and even scary.

But unlike Zebras, once the change has occurred, we don't walk away, stress free. We would analyze what happened. Did we not run fast enough? Did we zig when we should have zagged? Did the beast over run us, or did we not outrun the beast? Were we ill prepared? Were we too lazy? Did we take our environment for granted? Did we think we were all friends? Is there no loyalty in this world? Can't we all just get along?

As humans, we would have a psychological reaction plan. We would be afraid. We would become resentful. We might hide under the bed or retreat from life and living? We might stop fighting, and start accepting defeat to early. We might dislike every person or experience that had a possible resemblance to the original event.

Is this rational? I think it's human. But I do know that it is unhealthy. According to the author, Robert M. Sapolsky, a leading neuroendocrinologist, describes how chronic stress can undermine your health and what you can do about it, even in the urban jungle.

As humans, we need coping mechanisms, to offset our thinking and feeling processes. We need metaphors that will help us to make sense of what is happening. We need reassurance from time to time, and we need to be resilient. We need to be able to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and move on, so the rest of the herd doesn't become afraid.

And we need leaders to create a safe environment after a change occurs. If the leader is afraid, the followers are terrified. If the talk among the heard is destructive and fear based, then the herd becomes unsettled.

And maybe that's what the Zebra has figured out? Maybe the Zebra leader is defined as the one with a high level of emotional strength who can rise above the moment for the rest of the herd.

Susan Scott, author of Fierce Leadership, says that the difference is between IQ and EQ. IQ is a measure of our intelligence. EQ is a measure of our emotional intelligence. She says that IQ will get you into the herd, but EQ is what sets the leaders from the herd.

Emotional Intelligence (EI), often measured as an Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ), is a term that describes the ability, capacity, skill or (in the case of the trait EI model) a self-perceived ability, to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups.

EQ can be traced back to Darwin's work on the importance of emotional expression for survival. Early writers on the subject as far back as the 1900s used the term social intelligence to describe the skill of understanding and managing other people.

To put this in plain terms, Susan Scott talks about developing "Squid Eye" to know where and who the predators are, and what are they patterns so that we can be prepared and see the signs.

But beyond the theories and practices, the bottom line is we must learn to accept the moment and live in it for as long as it is and not let it linger. We must resist our human tendency to continue the beating after the beating. We must be defiant and resist our need to analyze the situation to the point where we are paralyzed. And we have to be defiant and not accept defeat.

The name "zebra" comes from the Old Portuguese word zevra which means "wild ass". Zebra's have never successfully been domesticated, unlike their closest relatives, horses and asses. And maybe that is the key being for "zebra-ic". All science aside, I can relate to the freedom loving Zebra.

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