We have more in common with baboons than we realise
By Carol Butcher
It’s important for me to state upfront that I concur with Professor Lee Berger’s view: “Baboons are no more related to us than cats are related to dogs. We are both primates, but we don’t descend from baboons.”
So, if someone had asked me out of the blue: “What do humans and baboons have in common?” I would have replied: “Very little beyond the fact that we both need food, water, and shelter, are adaptable and good at scheming.”
However, I have changed my mind after reading a fascinating article about baboons at outofafrica.nl/animals/engbaboon.html. Better informed, I would now add: “Both leave their sleeping place at about 7 or 8 am (humans to go to work), and both spend time grooming. Baboons forage for 3 hours (which equates to humans working); both rest in the heat of the day (in some countries humans enjoy a siesta, or enjoy an extended lunch break); both forage for 3 hours after the heat of the day (the graveyard shift for humans), and both make their way back home at about 18hoo.”
My interest in baboons was sparked by an article in Psychology Today by Dr. Loretta G Breuning entitled: “How baboons choose their leaders.”
I was surprised to learn that like humans, baboons gain power by trading favours. In the baboon world, this means grooming the fur of influential troop-mates, or fighting lions. Simply put the alpha male’s power is based on patronage.
Patronage has been in the headlines a lot in South Africa. Much of the publicity relates to President Zuma, and his son Duduzane, and the Guptas and allegations of patronage.
Patronage dates back to ancient times. When I think of patronage I think of the very positive role that wealthy families, the Roman Catholic Church and particularly the Medici played as patrons of the art. This patronage resulted in beautiful paintings, sculpture, and architecture.
Beneficiaries of patronage include Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, William Shakespeare and Ben Johnson, to name but a few.
Sponsorship of these talented individuals produced very positive results. Imagine the very positive difference we could make if wealthy individuals, faith-based organisations, and business supported young South Africans who are good at Mathematics and Science, enabling them to reach their full potential. South Africa would have a robust talent pipeline to supply skills in scarce skills areas in Medicine, the health professions in general, accounting and engineering. We would also be able to produce a cadre of talented Science and Mathematics educators.
Patronage of this type is very positive and plays a critical role in developing a talent pipeline. However, patronage potentially plays a very negative role within the corporate space and the political arena. The problem with patronage, where it is based on you support me on ‘x’and I will support you with ‘y’ is that it weaves a web of dependencies, and there is always payback. In the political realm, it means that if you support an individual or an individual’s candidacy, you will be rewarded with a top job. This is problematic as leaders hands are tied, and they are not able to appoint the best, most talented individual in the country. In the corporate space, it also creates a web of obligations. Individual ‘x’ may have supported you at a critical time, but he or she may not be the best candidate for promotion. However, based on patronage this individual is favoured.
We have much in common with baboons. However, the practice of patronage at the leadership level is not a practice that we should emulate. We would do well, however, to adopt the baboons’ practice of resting in the heat of the day. This would help to create a far better work-life balance.
We would also do well to follow the baboon’s cue of choosing the alpha wisely. In the case of baboons, this means a leader who can find food or keep the troop safe from lions. In the case of humans, this means choosing a leader, who brings peace, prosperity, safety, employment opportunities, in a nutshell, a better life for all.