Riding to work along a bike path the other day, I was menaced by a particularly aggressive goose. I never ride fast on bike paths – around here they are usually shared paths, and the risk of taking out a small child or a dog, or being garrotted by a carelessly held lead is too great for hooning. My relaxed, rolling amble along the path gave the goose plenty of time to take great offence. Whether he was upset by my garish high visibility vest, my incursion into his territory, or my careless assumption that she was male, the goose clearly felt that my presence was unwelcome, uncouth and uncalled for.
You may sneer, but if you have ever met an irate goose you will know that they are actually quite alarming beasties. Large and muscular, they look rather like cartoon bullies. When they point their beaks at you and start to hiss, you are left in no doubt as to their intentions. “You and me, buster,” that hiss seems to say. “Right here. Right now. Bring it on. I can take you. You know I can.” Embarrassing though it is now that I come to commit the episode to print, I was intimidated. Never mind that I was some 3 or 4 times the size of the goose, on a bike and clearly well equipped to high tail it out of there. I was spooked, and prepared to defend myself. Me. Pacifist. Greeny. Only this afternoon I was happy to be labeled a hippy, and yet I was quite prepared to attack that goose with any weapon to hand. Fortunately all I had to hand was my foot. So I shouted “watch it” – geese being well known for their receptiveness to reasoned argument – and readied my foot to fend it off, while pedalling hard with the other foot in an attempt to flee the scene of whatever crime the goose was charging me with.
Fortunately I made it out of there with self, bike and goose all unscathed, but I was a little startled for some time afterwards. Apparently all it takes to rouse my primitive rage response is a hissing goose. I dread to think what would have happened to the poor fowl had it menaced my children – personal intimidation is one thing, but lay so much as a feather on my kids and he’d know he’d been in a fight. One small act of aggression had the fight or flight systems in my brain all ready to call out the shock troops.
My 7 year old has noticed a similar effect – any act of aggression can arouse an equal and opposite reaction. Shout in my face and I’ll soon be shouting back, despite my best intentions. In fact, some days just shouting in my vicinity will do the trick. It’s a truly primitive response to feeling threatened, and while it’s perfectly natural, it’s also perfectly counter productive in most cases. I can defuse trauma with my kids very easily with laughter. All I can do with shouting is make them worse. Yet my rage response is all too often the first cab off the rank.
If you think about it in an evolutionary sense, the fight or flight reaction is probably fundamental to survival, yet it’s singularly destructive in the modern world. It is this response that leads to road rage – “you cut me off, I had to brake and it scared me, so … RAARRRGGHH!!!”
The trick, I think, is to deflect the threat – to remember that it’s not actually personal. It’s not about me. It’s about my 7 year old’s thwarted desire to watch television when she should be doing her homework. (Homework, at 7 years old?? That’s another story!) It’s about the other driver being in a hurry. It’s about the goose’s excessive need for personal space.
Maybe the goose felt threatened, but it was a good lesson in not buying into someone else’s stress. There was no need for me to respond in kind. I laugh in your face, Mr Goose. Sorry, Mrs Goose. My mistake. No, you’re right, I won’t come this way again. Sorry. So sorry.
But don’t talk to me about Tony Abbott. Now that’s a threat.