In search of ponies: Good to be in the middle of the penguin pack

Sharna Johnson

“Did you know penguins push one of their own into the water to see if it’s safe?” I asked a teen.

We were discussing social angst among teenagers and the evolutions he has been through in recent years.

“No,” he answered, a smile forming on his face as if he knew where I was going with it.

I set out to describe the flock, thousands of black and white winged bowling pins, bobbling and chattering at the edge of the ice, wondering if it’s safe to go in the water.

When, “Plop!” — there goes Joe, into the water.

If he survives, the others know the water is free from predatory seals.

In the alternative, if Joe gets munched, well, it’s clearly not a good place to dive in.

Actually, scientists aren’t really sure if the penguin collective intentionally sacrifices a martyr member, or if it’s more of an accident.

What’s most likely is — with the group’s high energy, en masse jostling at the waters edge trying to decide if it’s a good launch spot — somebody gets bumped.

And “Joe” gets to test the waters.

Now there’s something to be said for Joe — if he survives — because he will have faced enormous risk and emerged triumphant from the cool blue, appearing to be a hero to his fellow fowls.

But probability tells us it could go the other way just as easily, and for the next guy in the Joe row, the outcome may be entirely different.

And the teen, he was relating to “Joe,” actually dozens of “Joes” that he has and continues to encounter in his daily life.

Positioned somewhere in the middle of the flock, he was watching the frenzy along the water’s edge as his friends struggle with their experiences.

Swirling all around him were feelings of depression, melodrama, anger, identity, family problems, stress, fear.

And the outcome of those feelings were what was bothering him as he watched friends struggle with their problems, often turning to the wrong things as solutions.

Some of it he had already been through on his journey, some of it was shocking and some of it he just couldn’t understand.

But in his desire to help them, he ran the risk of getting to close to the front row.

“Where do you think the best position is in the penguin flock?” I asked.

“… Right where you are now.”

I went on to tell him if I were a penguin, I would want to be somewhere in the middle, close enough to see Joe, but not close enough to be Joe.

I could gain from Joe’s experience just from watching. If he survived, I’d know there was smooth swimming in my future, if he didn’t make it, well, I would hate to see that but I have the opportunity to apply the lesson where he won’t get to.

The guys in the back have no clue what’s going on and will struggle to the front until one day they are Joe simply because they never knew.

But it is those penguins, who have a good view of what is happening at the front who will benefit most, even though they may have to see a little tragedy along the way.

And those who have had their turn along the ice’s edge but were lucky enough not to get bumped in are sometimes even better off, as long as they realize their luck and learn to move back a little.

Sometimes we think we need to be out front, sometimes we think we need to be the ones making the waves so everyone else has to follow us — And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

There’s a time to face risk and danger, but you do it on your own terms with wisdom and knowing without a doubt it’s right — not because you just happen to be the one that fell in or got bumped.

Knowing where you’ve been, knowing where you stand and knowing when there’s a risk in front of you goes a long way.

If you’re a penguin that is …