Saturday, September 15, 2007

Skunk People

What would your reaction be if you came face to face with a skunk? Yes, I'm talking about the little fuzzy black creatures with the big white stripe down their back. Remember Peppie Le Pew? Cute as can be but... wheweee...can they ever pack a putrid punch! Would you be afraid? Would you be terrified of being sprayed? Would you think that ending up stinky was inevitable given everything you know about the nature of skunks?

All of us probably have the idea that no encounter with a skunk could ever turn out well. That is, of course, unless they had been 'de-stink-ified.' Yes, I invented that word. :) If their ability to spray us and smell up the joint were removed, they might be OK.... right? If they are unaltered, however, most people would probably do almost anything to avoid coming in to close proximity to one of these little guys.

Our assumptions about skunks might be valid or they might be wrong. Most of us have never, and will never, be close enough to one to test our beliefs. I, however, have witnessed first hand that when it comes to skunks, things aren't always what they seem!

My uncle lives out on a beautiful piece of property in the hills. He adores all kinds of critters, large and small. All are welcome around his place... including, you guessed it, the skunks. In fact, there is a family of skunks that have lived for several generations under his front porch. They are welcome to share in the bounty of the household (in their case its cat food). Everyone involved seems to share willingly. No one claims absolute territory or privilege.

The skunks avail themselves of the often open front door and come through the house at will. My mother has come face to face with them many times. They just look at her without care. (Although she did have one minor incident with a baby skunk once... a skunk who hadn't learned the ropes yet! The poor little guy didn't even spray her directly, he just let loose on the edge of the kitchen island, and it really wasn't the catastrophe that an adult would have caused.) That minor unpleasant incident aside, the skunks know that they are welcome there and they have an unspoken (obviously) agreement with the landlord.

They all like and respect each other. Everyone gets along fine. My uncle talks to the skunks. My mom talks to the skunks. That poor little baby just didn't know the language yet. :) Mom's interactions have been 99% positive! My brother and my neice have also had positive close encounters with the skunks. I have never actually seen the skunks personally (except in photographs), but I long too. There is just something very profound to me about the fact that these skunks get along just hunky dory with humans, cats and all the other critters that call the place home. How does that work? Why isn't somebody getting sprayed when they 'startle' one of these skunks? It must happen that the skunks are caught off guard at times. In the world of skunks, as portrayed in human tales, haven't we all been conditioned to believe the skunks really like to spray (kind of flexing their skunky muscles) and do it at the slightest provocation?

I think we may have been sold a bill of goods! Maybe skunks have gotten a bad rap? Perhaps we have stereotypes about skunks that are simply not true. Or, perhaps the beliefs about skunks only seem to be true when we keep them at arms length and/or rely on cliches and other people's bad experiences to create our 'skunk reality.'

How often do we do this in life? How often do we believe things about another person, or another group of people, just because someone says it or we saw it on TV? Our ideas and opinions are shaped by our own experiences, and in the absence of direct experience, we rely on what others communicate about their experiences to shape our views. Sometimes this can be a dangerous endeavor. We can make totally incorrect generalizations and assumptions about entire ethnic groups, religious groups or nations, without ever having a single personal experience upon which to test our new perspective. I urge caution when doing so. If you haven't seen it yourself... up close... be very careful about blindly accepting another person's reality as the gospel truth!

Who would think that you could have a whole group of skunks hanging out in your kitchen on a daily basis without an unpleasant incident. Kinda busts a paradigm bubble containing what we normally think about skunks, doesn't it?

I think we could all take a lesson from my uncle's experience with the skunks who call his place home. Never assume the worst of someone, or of a group of people based on what others says is true, particularly if it is negative and uncharitable. The world gets itself into all kinds of trouble by assuming absolute knowledge about what a particular type of person, or group of people will do or how they will behave. This is the origin of racism, sexism, ageism, and a variety of other societal and planetary ills. Entire groups of people, and sometimes nations, are villianized because of this type of stereotyping, generalization and totally unsupported representations of who they are. When we villianize a group of people, it becomes so easy to treat them badly, without respect or dignity and feel justified. What a slippery and dangerous slope that is.

Think for yourself. Learn about things for yourself. Test out your beliefs before you cement them in your paradigm. Take the risk that the skunk might just be an amazing and lovely addition to your life and far different than the evil stinker you have been taught to loathe and fear. You just never know.

I am one of 'the skunk people,' as my uncle would say, and I'm darn proud to say so!

Time for a quick snack in the kitchen

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