How You Can Be More Like a Penguin (And Why It’s Important)
For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by penguins. They have a funny waddle, live in beautiful Antarctica, they’re cute and they know how to have fun. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about penguins is the way that they work together to survive the harshest winter conditions on the planet.
Emperor Penguins raise their young in the midst of the Antarctic winter. After laying the eggs the female penguins head to the coast to eat and store up food for their chicks. During the 110 to 120 days that the females are gone, the male penguins are left to fast and keep the eggs warm. To survive, the males create large huddle circles sheltering themselves and their eggs from the winter temperatures and winds. What is interesting about these huddles is that the penguins move in a pattern that allows each one to experience an equal amount of time on the outside and in the middle of the huddle. By moving around the huddle, each penguin shares their time on the outside, exposed to the harshest conditions, and in the middle where they experience the most warmth.
These penguins model the kind of community that most humans crave. The kind of community that looks out for one another in the midst of the chaos and ferocity of the world. There are two things in particular that we can learn directly from the example of penguins:
Stand Together in the Midst of the Storm
By huddling together penguins protect one another from the harsh winter, effectively standing in the place of the other when the storm becomes too intense for the individual to handle. What would it look like for us to stand in for one another, giving each other a break from the storms of life? That question will be answered differently in different contexts and for different people, but it all begins the same way. In order to offer shelter in the storm, we first need to recognize that other people in our lives are facing storms and that we can help. Too often we become so caught up in the busyness and challenges of our own lives that we forget to recognize the storms in our neighbours’ lives. Sometimes, we even face the same storm but try to go it alone rather than reaching out.
When tragedy strikes a community, when youth struggle to find their place in the world, when people live with unsupported mental or physical illness, storms can seemingly dominate our lives. If we look for ways to come alongside those in the storm and to allow others to come alongside us, offering support, a listening ear, or a friend in the loneliness we can build stronger, more connected communities. These communities, modeling God’s Kingdom on earth, become spaces where people feel accepted, begin to heal, and are empowered to create positive change in the world.
2. Carry One Another’s Burdens
Penguins mate for life and within each pair, the task of raising chicks is equally divided. The males keep the eggs warm until the chicks hatch and the females return, then the females care for the chicks while the males go to the shore to feed. On a larger scale, penguins huddle together to keep warm and protect themselves from predators. If penguins didn’t work together, in pairs and in their colony, they could not raise young and the species would die. Similarly, we have to work together and watch out for one another.
Paul urges us not to look to our “own interests, but each of [us] to the interests of others. In [our] relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” who gave of Himself to serve others (Philippians 2:4-5). There are so many people who are overworked, vulnerable, or simply tired and afraid. How can we lighten their loads and look out for their best interest?
Again, the answers here can be diverse, but here’s a few ideas to get you started. Volunteer in a ministry or organization that has had the same overworked volunteers for years. Offer to cook a meal or provide childcare for a single parent family or a family where both parents work. Clean up after yourself in public spaces (and at home) to lighten someone else’s workload. Offer assistance when you see someone struggling, whether it’s a physical struggle or if they just seem lost. Invest time in listening to other people’s burdens and asking questions to let them know that you’re hearing them, and you care. These actions, big and small, lighten the load that someone else is carrying and begin to foster deep, life-changing community.
So, what will you do to stand in the place of someone who’s been beaten down by hardship, work and expectations? How will you share someone’s burden? How can you be more like a penguin?