(The Nationalist, 5 April 2002)
We don’t have many wild geese in Ireland but occasionally they can be seen. Like geese everywhere, they fly in a V-shaped formation (though the V is upside down, like Λ.)
Have you ever asked yourself why they do it? Scientists say it gives them extra lift. The air current created by the wing-flap of the lead bird gives a lift to the one coming behind, and its wing-flap helps the next one, and so on. In fact, the scientists have calculated that this system gives geese an extra 70% of result for their effort. The moral of the story seems to be that helping each other is a good idea, with benefits for all.
Another lesson which geese seem to have learned from experience is that flying in formation helps them to stay on course, to keep going in the right direction. If one starts to wander off, the presence of the others is a reminder. They have learned that and they apply what experience has taught them.
From time to time the lead goose, which of course doesn’t have any help from in front, becomes tired and drops back, and then one of the others comes forward. In that way, they share the hard work instead of leaving it all to one.
Geese also honk to each other. And the scientists have studied this too, distinguishing the meaning of different types of honk. The most common is one given by those at the back to the bird in front. It is believed to be a sound of encouragement, as if to say, ‘You’re doing well! Keep it up!’ Only occasionally is there a different sound, one which seems to say, ‘Hey! Wake up! You’re going off course!’ or something of the sort. But most shouting from the back is encouragement.
When a goose is sick or injured and has to drop out of formation, two geese accompany it as it flies to the ground. They stay with it until it either recovers or dies. Stand by each other when the going gets tough, seems to be their motto.
Of course, we human beings with our vastly superior intelligence have coined the phrase, ‘As silly as a goose.’ I wonder.
(With thanks to Jean Vanier of L’Arche and the Faith and Life communities.)