Baumann: If oxpeckers and impalas can help each other out, so can humans

Post and Courier
February 9, 2021

By Rick Baumann

In the natural world there are many examples of different species living peacefully in close proximity and even protecting or performing tasks that are beneficial to one another.

For example, remora fish attach themselves to the body of passing sharks with their unique fins. They continuously clean the shark’s skin of parasites, receiving food in the process and a free ride, which conserves their energy. Remoras are so beneficial to sharks that the sharks even open their mouths and allow the remora inside to clean their teeth and gums.

There are many other examples of this type of relationship occurring in nature. For example, clownfish live inside the poisonous tentacles of the sea anemone. The clownfish is immune to the toxin in those tentacles and makes a living cleaning them for the anemone by eating the small parasites that gather there. It also uses those tentacles to hide from predators.

Clownfish also can help draw other fish in when they are visible. Then the anemone shocks those fish with its poison before consuming its dinner.

The oxpecker is a bird that lives in the grassland savannas of Africa. Oxpeckers often can be observed hitching a ride on the backs of large grazing animals. These birds are tolerated by the buffalo, giraffe, impala and other large animals because they provide the valuable service of parasite and pest control. They consume lice, flies, ticks and other pests, helping to keep their beneficiaries healthy. They also sounds an alert call whenever they detect a lion or other predator approaching.

This type of relationship is known scientifically as symbiotic mutualism. To be a true example of symbiotic mutualism, the participants must be of different species. But those of us who can communicate intelligently and negotiate can learn much from such behavior.

That has not been occurring very well in our country lately, and many would argue that Democrats and Republicans most certainly are two different species. In recent weeks, Republicans themselves have split into two different cadres.

The rancor and division displayed by elected officials on the far left and the far right are embarrassing and childish. They have lost sight of the fact that the left wing and the right wing both belong to the same bird: the American people, whom they are supposed to represent.

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Instead, they inject anger at high volume, refusing to give in to one another, like two spoiled siblings. So nothing of substance gets done in Washington these days.

It is way past time for an American version of human mutualism to replace the stonewalling, arrogance and division.

We need to embrace each other intellectually, without calling each other liberals or conservatives. We need to find common ground and develop relationships to solve problems that are of mutual importance: the health of our planet; climate change and sea level rise; the cost of health care; the budget deficit; and the national debt.

Among these recognizable issues also should be consideration for the small business economy, which is the largest employment center and idea developer in our country. Right now, small business startups are at a 40-year low.

We need to embrace these challenges collectively and solve them. We cannot fully grow our society and economy through arrogant division.

My administrative assistant of many years, Susie Harper, used to have a comment that is apropos for these times: “It’s just so much easier to be nice to people.”

Let’s get started on that and come together as Americans in a human version of symbiotic mutualism, please.

Rick Baumann is the founder of Murrells Inlet Seafood and is on the board of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

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