Pecking Order

When we first brought the little pup home, our cat was traumatized.  Her initial shock soon turned to anger.  I would call kitty’s name, and she’d look at me with squinted eyes, as if to say, “How could you?” and quickly turn away. 

One week and a few cat-paw swats later, the pecking order has been established.  The cat rules.  She mostly maintains a bored demeanor, while the pup prances around, “Can we play?  Can we play?”  

It reminds me of the pecking order we, as people, establish among ourselves.  

As kids, there were always the bullies and the victims.  My friend and I walked four-tenths of a mile to kindergarten and back home again, every day there was good weather.  On the way home, the neighborhood bully – who was a few years older – would often chase us.  We never knew what he’d do if he ever caught us, but we were sure spooked.  We’d run and hide, terrified of him catching us.  The bully had established the pecking order. 

Sometimes we dare to challenge the pecking order.  One day when I was about ten, an older girl from up the street interrupted a game my friends and I were playing.  For some odd reason, she grabbed my arm, gave it a sniff and said, “You stink!”  I didn’t quite know what to make of it.  Then she started making fun of my last name, Szumski.  I was short, and she smugly proclaimed me “Shrimpski.” 

I had to think quick.  I knew this was a name that could stick … for eternity.  The girl taunted me with “Shrimpski!  Shrimpski!” as my friends laughed.  I knew it was brilliantly funny, but I had to take a stand.  I did not want to be tagged with this nickname for life. 

“You’re right,” I said, “that’s my name … in Polish!” 

She looked at me with anger and disbelief. 

“That’s how you say my name in Polish,” I said, “Shrimpski!” 

How could anyone dispute my claim?  None of them knew Polish.  The laughing stopped, and the older girl knew she had been outwitted.  I defied the pecking order … and won. 

How often do we find ourselves in a “pecking order?”  Sure, we move in circles where we have bosses, directors, or boards.  There’s a hierarchy of command in every organization, and rightly so.  But sometimes there are bullies … the grown-up kind … who try to make themselves bigger by making those around them appear smaller.  

I suppose we can react to their taunts and become victims, running and hiding.  Or, we can assert ourselves.  

Another option would be to rise above the animal kingdom, and quit playing kids’ games.  We can aim for things higher, such as The Golden Rule … Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

Wouldn’t that add a twist of nobility to so many social circles?  How would the bullies react if you didn’t play their games … and instead treated them the way you would want to be treated?  

Not an easy task … but perhaps worth the rewards.

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5 Responses to “Pecking Order”

  1. My Other Zone Says:

    I never experienced a neighborhood bully as you describe, but there was definitely a pecking order in our class at school. The “haves” were two little girls who took it as their right to be the most popular and therefore the princesses of the class. If they decided to ‘like’ you, you were in their circle – if not … I knew what they were doing. My friends and I were never “in” so we didn’t get to worship at their feet during lunch and recess. Poor us, we had the playground to ourselves. I’ve often wondered if those were the glory days for those two. By the time we reached junior high their ‘cuteness’ had become just as ordinary as the rest of us and they were history.
    Mary Lois

  2. Don Jones Says:

    The pecking order is created by your lack of confidence in yourself as you mature. No longer can you play the victim when it is your own doing as to how you are percieved. In about 3 months the pecking order will change when the puppy realizes he can intimidate the cat or maybe the cat will jump on his head and completely terrorize the dog. We’ll see. Great post. Thanks Judy and good luck with the puppy. Don

    • judyransom Says:

      Good insight, Don. I’ve always noticed — both as a kid and as an adult — that bullies know whom they can pick on (confidence lackers), and whom to leave alone (who won’t respond as victims). Yes, it will be interesting to see how the pup-cat relationship develops. I imagine our roles will be important, as to how we distribute our attention to the “kids.”

  3. slowdancejournal Says:

    This is one reason I love being a writer. If there is a pecking order I haven’t noticed it. Most of the time I’m a solitary worker, making my living by imagining things. But wouldn’t it be great if we could change the social model from a hierarchy to a group effort? We’d have to give up things like self-importance and prestige, but it could work. Really.

    Nice post, Judy! — Adrian Fogelin

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