Sympathy for the Misanthrope

This cloudy autumn morning, I took a short stroll around the university pond with my wife. One of the many simple delights of the place is the small troop of geese, along with one lonely Muscovy duck, who are the pond’s permanent residents. The long-necked white male goose is a strikingly handsome fellow, and clearly has the protective instincts of an alpha male. Whenever any of the pond’s many human interlopers get a little too close to the ladies, this gentleman rears his head, lets out a loud, challenging honk, and if necessary even takes a rush at the perceived threat. It is common to see children and adults alike, having gotten a little too close, suddenly jumping back with a scream as the man of the house lowers his head and charges at them, bull-style.

During this morning’s walk, as we approached the area where the geese had been sleeping, we heard the familiar warning honk. A young couple, likely in their mid to late twenties, were stepping close to the geese, dancing in and out in front of the long-necked male to tease him. The girl (I refuse to refer to the kind of female I am describing as a “woman,” regardless of her biological age) was recording or photographing the bird with her smartphone, and clearly trying to provoke the goose to rush at her in order to make a funnier show to upload for her social media friends. 

Teasing an elegant bird out of its rest and pretending to encroach on its safe territory merely in order to laugh at its fear and agitation; trying to stir an animal into a defensive posture — to make it feel threatened and anxious — merely for the sake of getting a more amusing video to share with one’s fellow morons; showing a complete lack of interest in, or sympathy for, these beautiful creatures as living things, seeing them instead only as insignificant means to one’s own mean-spirited fun: This is the tenor of our age, in microcosm.

I am struck by how frequently these days I find myself thoroughly disgusted by “my fellow man,” almost to the point of physical nausea at times. 

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