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Understanding Animals with the Hokey Pokey

Multispecies Intelligence (MI) is a form of Social Intelligence that specifically addresses more than the human species. MI is the ability to be curious and knowledgeable about the motivations, subjective experience, behavior, and welfare status of other species so as to maximum the benefit and minimize the harm for them. Like Emotional and Social Intelligence, growing MI helps ourselves and our kind. With MI, however, we make a special effort to define it in terms of helping other species because we humans often lag behind in our understanding of other species and how they are beings of moral concern with whom we enjoy mutualistic and interconnected relationships. MI is of importance not just to humans, but to the life around us, and can help us be in solidarity with others.

Peggy Hanna captures two wood ducks on film, suggesting the Hokey Pokey dance

We can help ourselves and others grow Multispecies Intelligence in a variety of ways – through thoughts, conversation, action, and study. Often in our programs at One Earth Conservation we emphasize the use of our bodies, with an intent of ratcheting down our thoughts and inner chatter. We do so with the aim of being present to the reality of what is before us in this very moment, instead of a reality based on past experiences, our culture, and the stories our conscious mind fabricates to explain the world and our actions. Much of what motivates our behavior happens at a subconscious level, and our actions are underway before awareness reaches the thinking mind. To perhaps have some chance to change our behavior, we want to “listen” to what our bodies are doing, for humans process and sense the world not just in the brain or mind, but throughout our body, such as through our senses and dispersed nervous system. We can also use our body to listen to what others are doing, saying and needing, for there is deep knowing in our shared evolution with others that developed bodies similar to our (and also in many cases, quite dissimilar but with common and convergent adaptations).

One practice using the body to grow MI is akin to the dance song, “The Hokey Pokey.” The song begins with “You put your left foot in, you put your left foot out…. and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. That's what it's all about.” Each succeeding verse then has you put in a different body part until the last verse where one sings “You put your whole body in and that’s what it is all about!”

In MI, we try moving various body parts in line with another how another species is moving. We begin by imagining that we are another species. We can use our memory, or video, but even better, an actual individual that we can see. We observe closely what the other animal is doing, and then we mimic that. We see what their appendages are doing, and then we move our arms or legs like that. What is the mouth or head doing, and then we imitate these motions. What are the eyes (if they have them), touch and taste receptors, ears and nose doing and sensing? At some point you then are ready to put your whole body into motion (or no motion depending on the species) and be that species. If any thoughts arise that such as whether you are getting it right, or if you look silly, let them go, for this is not about getting it right. It is about celebrating and enjoying life. If this can be done in a group or a circle outdoors, the mirth abounds which spreads to spectators who cannot but help smile at a bunch of humans flapping their arms as if they had wings.

People report after undertaking this practice, other than being slightly humbled at public displays of interconnection, is that they gain a better understanding of the species motivations and behaviors, often amazingly accurate. They also share that they learn how other species have complex motivations and behaviors, more than they thought before the exercise. The humans have shifted into seeing that other beings indeed have subjective experiences and that they aren’t automatons responding to their environment. As with all MI practices, this embodied practice is followed up with study and reflection to check our human assumptions and increase our understanding.

Some versions of the Hokey Pokey end with people in a circle jumping in and out of the center while singing, “Everyone in, everyone out.” This practice is to help us see that everyone is in our circle of concern, and getting humans out of the center of our thoughts. They, us, and the world is so much more than we can ever imagine. We just need to slow down to fathom life around us and put our whole selves into the pursuit of joy, wonder, awe, and beauty.

You can join us at our next Birding for Life Walk on April 9, 2023 where we will dare to have much fun and empathy, nurturing ourselves and our world by putting a wing in, a talon out, and turn our whole world around with our MI.

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