Animals and People:
Links and Distinction.

by Claudia Madrazo

As far removed from animals as we may think we are, we must always bear in mind that we all share a high percentage of genetic code. What is most fascinating and mysterious about human existence lies in everything we have managed to achieve with the small difference that separates us.

Naturally, opinions on the subject diverge. While some people believe that instincts govern our actions, others maintain that it is reason that prevails. The truth is that certain undeniable facts reveal that innate behavior plays a much larger role in our lives than we might think. How else can we explain why fear forces us to flee certain dangerous situations when the most sensible thing to do is to keep calm and plan the next move?

Astonishing Similarities
Have you ever noticed how human beings behave when we’re interested in someone? When courting, men use their bodies in a special way, stretching to look taller and more relaxed. Women, on the other hand, touch their hair and face and lift their shoulders. These gestures resemble the behavior of many animals that show off to attract a mate. Peacocks, for example, flaunt their spectacular, multicolored plumage to capture the attention and interest of peahens. Other species avail themselves of songs and dances. Is their resemblance to serenades and invitations to go out dancing a mere coincidence? Situations that tend to lead to aggressive behavior have been observed in chimpanzees, such as males fighting over an attractive female. Females of certain animal species select dominant males, characterized by their strength and skill which will be transmitted to their descendants. Quite possibly human jealousy is also an instinctive strategy to ensure the preservation of the species. When you come right down to it, it reflects the struggle to hold onto a sexual partner, or mate.

Prior to the arrival of a new member, birds, wasps and bees usually build nests, while bears, rabbits and wolves prepare their burrows or lairs. Women, on the other hand, ready their homes in different ways; as a rule, expectant mothers feel the need to thoroughly clean the house before the baby’s arrival, and of course they decorate the nursery and arrange the layette. We can certainly say that both animals and humans share a common need to prepare the place where they can safely raise their young. Observing the degree of similarity between the behavior of certain animals and our own, we might well ask, what drives us: instinct or reason?

The Difference: Human Duality
Instincts are innate behaviors whose primary function is survival, as individuals and as a species. They make us defend ourselves from any type of attack and compete for food and shelter. These forces that assist us in critical situations are transmitted generationally. Nonetheless, humans also have traits that other species lack: intelligence and resolve, which, in turn, lead to free will. Intelligence allows us to adapt, solve everyday problems, open ourselves up to the world and explore it and ourselves. Resolve is what drives us, what makes us get what we want. We learn with our intelligence and desire with our will. Both tools are the foundation upon which people build and grow, both personally and socially, enabling them to create marvelous things, such as artistic masterpieces, and endowing them with the capacity to wonder at a sunset. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietszche believed that humans were the only animals who could make a promise, since only they have the capacity to choose and determine the course of their lives. Intelligence and will provide us with the awareness of our journey through life and with it, the opportunity to question ourselves, determine our own path and assume responsibility for our destiny. Today, almost four million years after the first hominids set two feet on the ground and gradually stood up straight, freeing their hands and getting their head ready to think, we know that human history is that of the incredible duality of instinct and reason, impulse and thought, passion and reflection that we harbor… two realities that not only make us what we are but make us truly unique.

Observe everyone around you and analyze their behavior when they are attracted to someone or when they feel threatened. You will identify many behavior patterns defined as “animal”.

Pay special attention to the reactions of babies and children that have to do with feeding, territoriality, need for attention or fear. You will be surprised at all the innate information they possess.

Fear is the warning signal that protects us and allows us to overcome danger. When you are in a situation that provokes this sensation, try to take slow, deep breaths, which will give you time to act intelligently.

Books Desmond Morris, El mono desnudo, Plaza & Janés. Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape, Random House, Inc.