• Have you ever stood in a single line for multiple cashiers, only to have someone walk up to the next available cashier with no regard for the line of people who were waiting

  • Have you ever sat in the EXIT ONLY lane for 15 minutes to reach your exit, only to have car after car swoop in front of you at the last second from a NON-EXIT ONLY lane

  • Have you ever shared an idea and seen it to fruition only to have someone else take credit for it

More than likely, you have.  And, in truth, you may have been one of the offenders in the aforementioned situations.

“That’s how the game is played.”

The individual willing to step out of the herd and take what they want is often the victor.  As a society, we have always embraced rules and governance, but we also reward individuals who assert themselves beyond the rules; the ”alphas.”  We may see not paying taxes that everyone else pays as shrewd.  We may call drivers that weave in and out of lanes with no regard for others, skilled.  We may even call the idea thief, Boss.

“That’s how the game is played.”

But is it?  Or rather, does it have to be?  We cannot avoid playing the game but what if there are alternate ways of playing it?

Let me take you on a little detour on our way to the end of my thought.  I want you to meet Dr. Robert Sapolsky and Linda Share, as well as their troop of baboons called “Forest Troop.”  Dr. Sapolsky began studying this troop in the early seventies and he and Share have revisited them many times since.  In their early research, they saw that Baboon culture was full of violence; particularly between the higher ranking males and their “bullying” of lower ranking baboons.  They noted that the alpha males of this troop were perishing at an alarming rate.  It turns out, the alphas were eating spoiled meat from a dump site and had developed Bovine Tuberculosis.  This disease is extremely fatal in primates and eventually killed off all but one of the males in “Forest Troop” (Now, before you go thinking that I brought this up only to bring you down, listen to what happens next).  The remaining female members of the troop adopted a more dominant role, eventually shifting them to a female dominated society.  Dr. Sapolsky and Share continued to visit “Forest Troop” every year until 1993 to study their cortisol, or stress levels but did not expect the societal shift to last.  Adolescent male baboons often join other troops once they reach maturity and this was what he expected would repopulate the troop… if it survived at all.  With the arrival of the new males, Sapolsky and Share assumed the society’s violent nature would return.  However, “Forest Troop” did something very different. Ten years later, Dr. Sapolsky brought his wife Lisa to Kenya to introduce her “Forest Troop.”  They found the troop thriving.  The baboons of “Forest Troop” were less aggressive than other baboons and far more inclusive and supportive.  A hierarchy remained, and infighting did occur among the dominant members but to a significantly lesser degree.  There were no alphas bullying lower ranking baboons for an ego boost.  Members of the tribe sat closer together and groomed each other with no regard to rank.  Dr. Sapolsky and Share also noted fewer classic markers for chronic stress – such as elevated stress hormones – among the lower ranking baboons; especially when compared with baboons in other troops.  Furthermore, the adolescent males from other troops who had found their way into “Forest Troop” didn’t try and change things back to the way they had always been… they adopted the new norm.  ”We don’t yet understand the mechanism of transmittal,” said Dr. Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford, ”but the jerky new guys are obviously learning, ‘We don’t do things like that around here.”.  A colleague remarked that “it would have been less astounding if the baboons had suddenly grown wings and started to fly.”  Dr. Sopalsky and Share speculated that new males observed the friendly attitude of the dominant females of “Forest Troop” and realized that life is better with peace.  No one knows for sure how the female baboons accomplished all of this; although, if you know a strong woman, you may have some idea.  The rest of the troop’s behavior is on par with other baboon troops.  They are still playing the same “game,” they just found a different way to play that works better for them, as well as for others who stumble into their troop.


Same game but an alternative way of playing it.

The game doesn’t have to be cut throat.  For me to win, it is not necessary for you to lose… except in the majority of sports.  In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that winning is better without a loser.  Now, I am by no means a winner.  I am by no means an alpha.  Yet, like all others in our tribe, I strive for success and happiness.  When I am unwilling to claim success at the cost of someone else, I am often told that “that’s how the game is played.”  However, the game of life is not dependent on a loser.  Success does not hinge on another’s downfall.  Economic success is dependent on the lower ranks just as much as they are the higher ranks.  Like “Forest Troop,” you can play the same game in a different way.  Find a way to include and “groom” others rather than bullying or dominating them.  Lead with compassion and win WITH the troop rather than OVER them.   Frans B.M. de Waal, the director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University reminds us, “if Babboons can do it, why not us?”

You may find yourself happier.  Others may join you along the way.  Your “troop” may even thrive where others would deem certain defeat.

To read Dr. Robert Sapolsky and Linda Share’s original academic article, CLICK HERE

To hear Dr. Robert Sapolsky’s radio Ted Talk, CLICK HERE