Peacemaking Politics

Cat Walk

In Peacemaking Among Primates, Dutch-American primatologist Frans de Waal labels aggression a “social fire.” When ignited, it can be lethal. And yet, de Waal found peacemaking activities are common in the animal kingdom. Ruthless competition is not more prevalent than sharing and peacemaking among our relatives, the primates. There are territorial squabbles, but many primates are talented in reconciliation efforts. It is daunting to consider de Waal’s observations about monkeys versus humans: “…whereas monkeys generally make-up within minutes, humans can take days, years, even generations to do the same.”

Chimpanzee colonies have developed checks and balances on aggression with peacemaking occurring through a hug and a kiss. Rhesus monkeys groom the fur of their former enemies. The bonobo version of reconciliation is engagement in more overt make-up and make-out sexual behaviors. Other species appear to have make-up behaviors also – wolves, domestic goats, bottlenose dolphins and captive ravens are found to “reconcile” differences.

Only domestic cats have failed to show behavior that reconciles relationships after conflict! Those independent cats are reminders that peacemaking is NOT universally present. 

In de Waal’s book titled Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes, he cites a definition of politics as a social process containing three ingredients: “who gets what, when, and how.” He compares aspects of chimp life to Machiavelli! However, monkey leaders, the alpha males, do not impose leadership by themselves; they have accomplices.

Monkey business gained new interest this year. For the first time in 70 years, a female Japanese macaque named Yakei (who lives in a nature reserve) violently overthrew three high-ranking males and her own mother to become the first female leader! Yakei’s alpha status is stunning to watch according to reserve workers. “Social smarts are more important than physical strength for Japanese Macaques,” reports Katherine Cronin of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo.

It was imagined that Yakei would lose her reign in mating season, however the plucky Yakei waltzed her wiggle successfully and mated with Maruo, rated 15th in the troop. Staff members call him “quite the catch” as he is very calm and kind to baby monkeys. Yakei gave a rare birth to twins in 2019, but one of her babies disappeared. Meanwhile, Yakei is a loving mom to her remaining twin in spite of fighting her own mother to rise in rank.

Do animal behaviors remind you of any humans?

How did I come to write about monkeys this week? Maybe the latest news on monkeypox was an influence. The idea of yet another animal infecting us — when we cannot get a grip on handling the bat virus — is disturbing.

Is our current culture raising people to be like cool cats, independent creatures who are not adept at reconciling differences? Cat walking in a swaggering sway, as if to say, “Nobody better mess with me,” describes quite a few people.                                                          

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

84. What peacemaking skills did you learn in your family?

85. Where do you place yourself on an independent-interdependent continuum?

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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