Friday, March 6, 2009

A Lost Penguin-A Question

A lost penguin versus a lost person
March 5, 12:22 AM

We hear all the time advice about how to “patch” things up with people we are at odds with: how to encourage communication and talk it out, how to portion accountability, how to eat crow, etc. But let’s back up. Admittedly, a penguin is not a person, but there’s something easy to understand in this upcoming anecdote.

One of the documentaries just up for an Oscar was Encounters at the End of the World by Werner Herzog, whom you may know from Rescue Dawn or from his films with Klaus Kinski. Among the more prominent storylines in the film about Antarctica is the brief account of a wayward penguin. First, we see a bunch of penguins slip-sliding around together. Then, one penguin, alone, goes off in the wrong direction. Hastily, he is waddling neither toward the ocean nor to the mating area but directly inland, into the heart of the continent.

Herzog, doing the voiceover, talks about how no one is allowed to step in and turn the penguin in the right direction. So what we, the viewers, see is the crew hovering around the solitary animal, filming and so forth, letting him wander off to certain starvation and death. We are told that the penguin, even if he is set straight, will return to his wandering, governed as he is by a defective instinctual compass. In other words, this creature is a permanent lost cause, and because there’s nothing we can do about it, we let him go.

Is this correct? But is it right? Or is the answer, when confronted with this dilemma, "Yeah, I know, but I’m going to do it anyway." And then does that set us on a course directly inland, recursively, into the heart of the continent? Well? "Yeah, I know, but I'm going to do it anyway."

Sstory and image courtesy of the Denver Friendship Examiner @

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