Before you read any further, take a look at this video from BBC Earth. Don’t worry. I’ll wait.
Got a little intense, didn’t it? I love a show with a surprise twist. I especially like that part when you appeared.
Wait… you didn’t see yourself? I did. I saw you, and I saw me. In fact, I saw everyone. We’re all in this video. Don’t believe me? Then ask yourself these questions.
Are you the hunted, the herd or the hero?
OK, so you weren’t like actually in the video in the literal sense. That would be a little more obvious. In the metaphorical sense, however, you were there… in one way or another.
Were you Red (the lion who ventured out alone), a member of the hyena clan, or Tatu (the second lion who appears)? Are you the hunted, the herd, or the hero?
Have your answer?
Gotcha! It’s a trick question. At various points in your life, you are each one of them. Live long enough, and you’ll be all of them… You will always be the hunted, the herd, or the hero.
When you’re the hunted…
Videos in which the lion is the hunter are common. At some point, we all see gazelles, hippos, and even elephants serve as easy prey for lions. Seeing the tables turned when the lion is now the hunted shifts our paradigm a bit and boggles the mind.
It’s almost unsettling. Seeing the king of beasts on the defensive makes us question the concepts of power and strength as they apply to the lion and also to ourselves.
For most of us, we grow up with an unconscious belief in our immortality. Since we likely do not encounter profound sickness or death in our younger years, we see any threat to our health or our lives as far away and very distant.
Through time, we learn. When we see someone strong suddenly put in a position of weakness, reality sets in. No matter how strong we preserve them (or ourselves) to be, no one is immune from weakness. Immortality is the brass ring no one can reach.
Sickness takes over the body of someone we love or ourselves. A job loss depletes someone of his or her self-worth. Parenting drains a person’s mental, physical, and emotional energy. A car accident, a school shooting, a sudden heart attack, a dark secret battle with depression… we learn that weakness or death can be just a page turn away.
This knowledge teaches us power is temporary. Leadership is eternal.
Rulers fall. Fame fades. Popularity wanes.
You can still name your favorite teachers because of their leadership in the classroom. Professionally, names come to mind of those who have made a positive impact on your career. History honors and revers leaders who changed our world for the better. But each of them, at one point or another, were hunted.
They could have been surrounded by competitors or people who just hated their success out of jealousy or spite. Or, they could have been surrounded by addiction, depression, learning disabilities, mental health challenges, or toxic relationships. Whatever surrounded them, they chose their path of leadership, knowing the risk. Even though hunted, their power came through the act of their choice to go after something that they believed was worthwhile.
You have the same choice, the same power. Your decision to lead towards a noble purpose may guide you directly into the heart of an attacking herd. And, like our most respected leaders did at some moment in their lives, all your eyes can see are hyenas.
When you’re the herd…
With all the social distancing we’ve experienced lately, being a part of a herd feels like ancient history. But, with technology and especially social media, herds still exist in large numbers. You don’t have to be physically present to be a part of a group.
As humans, we all want that. To belong… to develop relationships with others that make us feel known and seen. I know as I’ve quarantined alone over the past month and a half, I’ve realized the importance of relationships and connections with other people. Herds are not inherently bad. They are actually vital for our mental and even physical health.
Multiple sources provide evidence that supportive relationships in our lives improve the quality of our health. A study of 309,000 people showed the risk of premature death increased by 50% for those who did not have strong relationships in their lives. Another demonstrates social connections reduce stress levels, which provides health benefits such as a boosted immune system and lower blood pressure.
Those aren’t the herd relationships I’m talking about. Those are healthy and uplifting. Relationships that better the individuals in the group and the lives of those they encounter are positive. That is family, the best kind of herd there is.
I’m talking about the other kind of groups. The ones that gather to gossip. Groups that revel and cheer when others fail. Those that congregate to plot how to make someone look bad.
You know… the mean girls.
Like hyenas, they bite and laugh at others. They surround the weak and target those alone. Their focus is not on themselves or even each other; it is on the vulnerable and how to ultimately bring them down. They don’t attack to live; they live to attack.
If you aren’t one of the ones biting or laughing, then you’re silent. You’re still a part of the herd. You’re also a part of the attack. Your silence gives the space for hatefulness and grants the permission for others to go in for the kill. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had several remarkable things to say about the power of silence, one of them being this:
“Our lives being to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Herds can build houses or tear them down. They can be good or destructive. The voice you choice to give (or not give) in your herd matters.
When you’re the hero…
My favorite line from the video is “Even for 20 hyenas, a pair of lions is too much to take on.” It only took 2 to beat 20. In fact, it only took one. One more lion made all the difference.
When you see someone in your pride surrounded, what do you do?
Out of concern for yourself, do you stay away? Do you fear the attacking herds will surround you next?
Or, seeing the member of your pride in peril, do you rush to the rescue? Do you risk your safety and your reputation to save the one in need?
When you see others in trouble, your response defines if you are a hero or not. It doesn’t always mean you have to fight the attacking herd. Sometimes, it just means removing the one being surrounded from that situation. Other times, you can save a person by just reminding them that they are not alone. A phone call, a card, an invitation for coffee… creating the connection provides strength for the hunted to live another day.
Sometimes, you have to be the hunted before you can learn to be the hero. It took me having cancer for me to truly know who to respond when someone is sick. Now that I’ve gone through a layoff, I know what I most appreciate from those who reach out. Going through a hardship of your own better prepares you to help others.
The benefit of being surrounded by hyenas is that you can help others fight them next time.
What if the person who is surrounded isn’t in your pride? Will that determine if you act as the hero? Who are you willing to save?
True heroes don’t stop to check if the person needing saving is in their pride. Normally, I would make some Superman or Avengers reference here because I’m a total nerd that way, but every night at 7 PM, I clap our true heroes. Nurses, doctors, first responders, and essential workers in today’s world battling covid19 exactly embody all that a hero means.
Nationality, gender, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status… none of it matters to a hero. A hero acts on justice and on what is right without deciding who deserves saving.
Heroes save whoever is in need. That’s what makes them a hero.
Who you are today… the hunted, the herd, or the hero?
Today, whether you are the hunted, the herd, or the hero, realize that it can change tomorrow. If considered fully, there’s value and power in each role. The decision of what you do in each role is up to you.