Have you ever been stung by a bald-faced hornet, alias yellowjacket wasp? These wasps are capable of stinging repeatedly. The stings pack a punch that you will not forget easily. I bawled after an encounter with a bald-faced hornet in my garden. When threatened, vengeance can erupt. And guess what…there is commotion and conflict within this aggressive wasp colony. One common worker-wasp version of a “strike” is to kill their queen. Competitive struggles for control obstruct the social organization of the colony. Does this sound like any human conflicts you know about?
Mister Rogers comes to mind: “When I was a boy and would see scary times in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
A researcher studying birds in Africa found helpers! Nichola Raihani, evolutionary biologist at University College London, studied pied babbler birds living in the Kalahari Desert where every bird cooperates in the flock as a helper to raise the offspring of a dominant breeding pair of birds. Raihani also studied mutualism in the meticulous “cleaner fish” who live on tropical coral reefs and found that cooperation extended beyond same species. Dubbed the hairdressers of coral reefs, cleaner fish remove parasites and surface gunk on other sea creatures. Now turning her attention to the study of human behavior, Raihani finds that cooperation is not always on the plus side. For example, corruption can be a form of cooperation!
Raihani wrote in The Social Instinct: How Cooperation Shaped the World how we humans have the possibility of cooperating with strangers. Other species are most likely to cooperate within their family groups (leadings to their familial genes having the best survival chances). People have the capability to cooperate with both family members and strangers.
Cooperative progress is a challenging topic. And yet, over a fairly short period of time many workers were able to transition to work-from-home routines and many parents/grandparents carried out incredibly challenging home schooling for children. Expanding our cooperation to “outsiders” is important, especially in pandemic times.
Can we learn something from cleaner fish who move beyond helping their own kind? We need cooperation to confront the collective sting of the COVID-19 virus. Raihani writes, “Evolution under adversity helped to forge our cooperative nature, and this willingness to work together ultimately defined the human success story.”
How can we become better Planet Earth team players?
Pearls of Peace (PoP) quiz:
24. How important is cooperation in your daily life?
25. When is a time when you were a “helper” to a stranger?