I take my daughter to the zoo. I take my daughter to the zoo way too much. As all my friends know, I am a shameless Fort Worth booster. Among my favorite facts about Fort Worth is that our zoo is the oldest in Texas (1909), one of the best in the country and my friend Michael Bennett designed the Museum of Living Art (MOLA) which is the most kick-ass-amazing-crocs-at-eye-level thing ever made by humans.
And I wasn’t even born here. I just know cool when I see it.
But when I go to the zoo, I always feel bad for the lesser kudu. The lesser kudu is majestic and graceful. She is delicate and formidable at the same time. What makes her lesser? After all, she is not a mini greater kudu. In fact, she is probably an earlier version of the greater kudu – she came first. So maybe she ought to be called the original kudu.
By the way, Bonnie and I have the same problem with the lesser bird-of-paradise. Couldn’t they just name it something else? Like maybe … “A Bird So Beautiful Your Continent Doesn’t Deserve Native Versions So You Can Only See Them At The Zoo.” Or maybe … “Bring You to Gentle Tears Bird.” Would you like to be known as the lesser brother? Or the lesser musician? Who comes up with these names?
As bad as I feel for the lesser kudu and the lesser bird-of-paradise because of their names, my melancholy does not compare to the pessimism I feel when parents say to their kids, “Look at the pretty deer!” Or, “Say hello to the pretty parrot, honey!”
Come on. The signs are right in front of the enclosures. They share all kinds of interesting information like … wait for it … the actual name of the animal. The lesser kudu is not even a deer … she’s an antelope (and, yes, I realize I’m referring to all kudus as “she” … because I like it … so back off). And if you think a lesser bird-of-paradise looks anything like a parrot you need to read a book … or anything … maybe a newspaper … or even a cereal box.
I get fired up about animal names. I bet that my daughter can accurately identify more non-American animals than 99% of our country’s population. Seriously. And she’s not even three years old.
Why would people spend all that time exploring exotic animals and not bother to learn what they are called or where they come from? Why would they choose to remain willfully ignorant when the truth is right in front of them? And why would they pass that ignorance on to their children?
I was thinking about that today at the zoo; then I realized people do it all the time in all kinds of different ways. The Internet puts everything at our fingertips, yet we still choose ignorance. Do you know what kind of roof you have? Do you know the names of the plants in your yard? Do you know the ingredients in your microwave dinner? Do you know what’s in the employment agreement you signed at work? Do you know how to fix a flat? Do you know whether your hot water heater is gas or electric? Do you know how to program your universal remote? Do you know who your senator is? Do you know the name of your neighbor?
Why is it okay to not know … and why is it okay to not care?
I’ll tell you why. Because you don’t need to know any of these things to survive. The best thing that knowing about the lesser kudu can get you is a chuckle at a cocktail party or perhaps a wedge in trivial pursuit.
But people should examine whether they want to merely survive or thrive. Many studies have proven that the key to happiness is friends. It’s hard to have friends if no one likes you or if people think you’re dumb or boring. People like interesting people who have interesting life experiences and know interesting things that are not about hunting, gathering or shelter.
You’ve already taken the first step of exploration by going to the zoo in the first place. Why don’t you walk around in slow motion and linger over the information plaques and imagine what life may be like where the lesser kudu is from.
And yes. This is all a metaphor.