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Sheep, People and Patience

Mick, an old neighbour of mine told me once that people would be much better off if they were more like animals. It struck me after feeding some lambs a few days ago how like animals we are becoming.

I poured out a generous portion of fattening nuts for 24 ram lambs in 3 troughs in a loose yard to the rear of their winter quarters and went to release them from the shed.

To do this I firstly had to open the pen gate (against which they strained anxiously as I attempted to release it). Eventually, freed from their pen they crashed into the outside shed door, momentarily impeding all their progress as they each strived to be first to the troughs. Suspended 7 or 8 across in the gap none of them could make the turn into the yard to the troughs unless 1 or more stepped backwards and allowed the others through. But none was prepared to take a backwards step, so I had to intervene and move 1 or 2 by hand to release the entire bunch towards their grub. If I had not, they might have stayed jammed in the door indefinitely, straining to move towards their goal, exhausting themselves with their lack of progress. As I was freeing them, I pointed out the silliness of their rushing. But their silliness did not end there. They followed each other from trough to trough, convinced that the food which was in the other 2 troughs was always better than what was in the one they were eating from. Later as I gathered into a bucket the nuts they hadn’t finished, I remarked to the lambs, now standing quietly at the door “well lads, what was the point of the big rush earlier?”

 

Our similarities to sheep first struck me later in the day as I exited a filling station after paying for petrol. 2 lads were racing towards the outside door as I entered the tidy porch from the inside. I assessed the situation and realized they were not going to break momentum and we would have a crush like the sheep on our hands if I did not step aside. I duly did, allowing the 2 lads to join the queue at the cashpoint a full 5 seconds quicker than if they had stepped aside and allowed me to exit first.

It got me thinking:  I often wonder as to why, when we hear our flight being called at airport departure gates, we automatically gather our bags and join the pointless queue which snakes its way towards the exit point. Or similarly when a plane comes to a halt on the runway on arrival why do we hurriedly begin gathering our belongings only to stand in the aisles for ages waiting for the doors of the plane to be opened?

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I find myself at Christmas having to fight the temptation to join a jam of traffic for provisions which I can get a few days later without any queuing.

Do we ever question why we compete and rush for things which are often a waste of energy?

Have we lost the ability to question whether what we are doing in crowded situations is wise and necessary or simply the actions of someone following blindly without thinking?

Sheep might not always be the most patient of animals but even they have their moments. My father used to tell the rather rude tale of the young ram and the old ram strolling down a road during mating season. They stop near a field. The young ram sniffs the air and excitedly says to the older ram: “There are ewes across the ditch at the bottom of this field and I’m sure they are on heat.  I’m going to break in, run down to them and I’ll find one that’s on heat and tup her”. The older ram wisely advises the younger animal: “I’ve a better idea. Why don’t we open the gate, take in all the scenery, stroll down the field, and tup ALL of the ewes that are on heat”?

 

In truth, I had secretly felt I had been a little unfair in judging my sheep for their lack of patience. As I realized I wasn’t really that different myself over the next few days, I thawed in my attitude towards them further. I noticed more and more my own and other people’s lack of patience and definite similarities to the sheep.

I noticed it in the Primetime presenter on RTE who deflated the wonderful news that Coronavirus vaccinations were beginning in the UK by anxiously asking: “Why are we in Ireland left waiting behind”?  And in the woman interviewed on Radio the night before shops opened after restrictions lifted saying that she would not be able to sleep that night with the prospect of going shopping the next day.

2020 has been a tough year but maybe, like the old ram strolling down the field, a little bit of patience might pay off in the long run. The beginning of the end of the Coronavirus Pandemic has made us all impatiently eager to see the back of it. I recently saw an old clip from a  News bulletin from the height of the Foot and Mouth crisis of 2001, when for a time it felt like the end of the world:  No Sport, no travel and for a time a feeling that nothing would ever return to normal.  Well, it all passed and now it is just a 30 second clip from an episode of “Reeling in the years”.

And this too will end: Bars will reopen; Concerts will happen again; As will the ploughing Championships. The vaccines will arrive, and life will return to a new normal. And if we have learned anything maybe we will have learned the value of waiting and having a little patience.

Whether it be waiting for the Pandemic to end or in our everyday lives, maybe we could all learn from the wise old ram. A more gentle stroll might pay off in the long run; Taking in the scenery might leave us more refreshed and energetic.  When it does all end maybe our newfound patience will leave us better equipped for what’s on the other side of the ditch.

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