Kiss the Dolphin!
Two months ago I swam with dolphins in Hawaii. They were not wild dolphins, but had been born in captivity, or as our dolphin trainer politely corrected me, they had been “born under human care”. Apparently, the word “captivity” evokes more negative images than “under human care.” But her comment made me wonder — is human care really such a good thing? Do we humans actually take good care of anything, including ourselves?
My dolphin swimming experience (which was wonderful, by the way) was shared with two other people, a 40-something Canadian woman and her teenaged son. The woman explained that she had dreamed of doing this since she was a child, when she first saw dolphins swimming in the Atlantic, more than forty years ago. Today was the big day.
The trainer explained that the dolphins were allowed to do what they wanted. They would not be forced to do anything against their will. And only positive reinforcement would be used. If the dolphin rolled over when the trainer asked, the dolphin would receive several fish and lots of verbal praise. On the other hand, if the trainer asked the dolphin to roll over and the dolphin swam away, there would be no yummy fish treats and no cheering or verbal praise. The important thing was that there would be no punishment, no scolding and no raised voices. It was all about having fun.
Dolphins LOVE to have fun. They zoom through the water, chasing each other above and below the surface. They leap and spin and squeak and play some more. You can’t help but laugh when you’re around dolphins.
And that’s when I had a sad epiphany. We humans have almost forgotten how to have fun. When the trainer asked the teenaged boy if he wanted to kiss the dolphin, the boy looked embarrassed and said no. The mother seemed quiet and very subdued. Given that she had dreamed of this day for more than forty years, I was surprised at how reserved she was around the animals. Was she frightened of the dolphins? Had she forgotten how to play?
After our 30-minute session ended, the next group being prepared for their swim included a woman wearing a thick layer of make-up. No, she didn’t want to get her face wet, wasn’t going to wear a mask or dive with the dolphin. Her mascara might run. Sorry…
For the rest of the day, as I wandered around Waikiki, I observed parents with their children, wondering exactly how beneficial it is to be “born under human care”. And do we practice positive reinforcement with our own offspring?
What I observed can be summed up in one word: “NO”! We are a shockingly negative animal. Over and over, children were being told, “Don’t do that!”, “Not now, maybe later”, “Be quiet”, “Stop that!”, “Put that down”, “I told you not to do that”. No, No, No…
Watching these families on vacation made me feel depressed. What the hell are we doing to kids?! When we begin our lives we’re so full of curiosity and energy. And dreams. But it seems that kids aren’t allowed to play for very long in our culture. Hey, it’s a dangerous world out there, kids need to learn to follow the rules, and let’s not forget how competitive life has gotten. If we want our kids to get into the best colleges, they’d better start off in the right pre-schools. No time to waste. Everyone’s busy getting ready for… Hmm, what exactly are we getting ready for?
All this makes me wonder if most humans even know the difference between captivity and freedom — since we ourselves are so accepting of the limited amount of liberty that we experience in our own daily lives.
We could learn a lot from dolphins…