15 March 2019

Discover: Chimpanzees, Humans, Animal Culture

CognEYEzant day 262, Ed Yong
The genetic connections between humans and chimpanzees, whether they be our approximately 99% shared DNA or through our culture, remind me that some of the most human traits we possess are also some of our most animalistic.

At first, humans set ourselves apart from other animals by claiming we were the only creatures to use tools: chimps, among others, share this behavior. Us humans have led ourselves to believe that our culture sets us apart from the animal kingdom. But as Ed Yong, author of I Contain Multitudes, writes in his The Atlantic article Chimpanzees Are Going Through a Tragic Loss, “many scientists have come to accept the existence of animal cultures”.

In a chimpanzee community —a group of adult males, females, and the young— chimps observe each other and by doing so, learn new skills and behaviors. Each chimp contributes unique skills, dare I say perspectives, to their community, the elders serving as history museums. Spanning across equatorial Africa, chimpanzee behavior varies by differing skills and practices, not just by ecological variances. In other words, chimpanzees problem solve, they adapt and have practices, they remember and learn— chimpanzees have culture.
CognEYEzant day 262

Our human perspectives all too often are unaware of, or disregard, the culture and nuances of others, whether they be humans or other animals. From my experience, especially with art, I’ve learned to crave the documentation and conservation of the thoughts and creations our culture produces. Yet as Yong puts it,

“We care about the loss of our own cultures. We work to document languages that are going extinct. We store old art in museums. […] It seems shortsighted—unimaginative, even—to be so concerned with our own traditions, but so blasé about those of our closest cousins, especially when we’ve only just started to appreciate how rich their cultural landscape can be.”

Take five minutes: broaden your perspective on animal culture by reading Ed Young’s article.

Take five weeks: learn about the nuances of chimpanzee behavior, and how we can conserve them as a species and a culture, by taking Duke University’s free MOOC (massive online open course) Chimpanzee Behavior and Conservation on Coursera. Join me, I’m currently taking it. 

This article originally appeared as Day 262 on BFWP's Sister Project CognEYEzant*. CognEYEzant is a 365-day art project Nadia aka The Thinker thought up. Every day for a year she creates a piece of art that represents an eye, much of the art is accompanied by articles like this one. Check out the project here. You can follow CognEYEzant by subscribing by email on the website and/or following CognEYEzant's Instagram @cogneyezant

19 October 2018

The Courage to Write About Courage

Story sharing takes courage, courage to remember, to speak, to listen. In writing, our stories can thrive and maybe even touch the lives of others. But writing itself takes an immense amount of courage. As author Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “I strongly believe that writing is an act of courage. It’s almost an act of physical courage.”

Our stories define, enliven, and enrich our culture. And now more than ever, we need the courage to set our stories free. Courage is defined, “The ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.”

While staring down autumn and young adulthood, we got to thinking about courage. We realized that if we could give ourselves—and heck, everybody— one skill that could help us live into our own stories, that skill would be courage.

Then, about 24 hours later, we experienced a coincidence. The kind of coincidence that makes everything align for just a moment: in the American Library Association’s (ALA) news we found a story contest, and its theme was courage

In the ALA press releasePublic Library Association (PLA) President Monique le Conge Ziesenhenne explains her hopes for this writing contest, 
“Our national writing contest provides an authentic experience for writers and readers to reflect on their own courageous moments... Librarians know the value in connecting writing and reading creatively; those who write read more, and those who read write better. Our hope is for this contest to further connect residents with literature, local libraries and each other.”

Apart from the opportunity to grow and share courage and a cash prize, this contest offers a chance to participate in a futuristic form of storytelling: to be published by Short Édition in a Short Story Dispenser.

We hadn't heard of Short Édition or knew what a Short Story Dispenser was. So we did what we had to do, we researched. According to their website,
"Short Édition’s aim is to adapt literature to the modern world by combining short literature, the community and technology. In this way Short Édition uses passion and humour to inspire the community of readers and authors who dare to like short stories."

Image credit: Short Édition 

Earlier this year PLA and Short Édition partnered to bring their Short Story Dispensers to the US, four libraries were selected to participate in the project to bring short stories to the masses.

These magical kiosks are positioned around four cities in the US and offer an island of escape in the midst of a busy life. Select a one, three, or five-minute story and it almost instantly appears printed on a scroll, of eco-friendly paper. 

The contest ends on Tuesday, October 30, 2018. So, get right to work, click here to get all the details!

Need a little help getting started? We did too and so we looked to a favorite writer for some insight, watch this short interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates: 

Do you need the courage to write about courage? We've found that a prompt can really help, give ours a try:
  • Take a second to recall a memory about courage. It can be an extremely vulnerable memory, most memories about courage are. 
  • Then take this memory, this story of yours and set in a faraway land, a faraway time; turn yourself into a thing of fiction.
  • In ten minutes, write down the memory, in poem form, in story form, in screenplay form, in any way that works for you.
  • Edit your writing:
    • rewrite and edit again, over and over until what you have resembles about 70% of what is in your mind (sage wisdom from the video above).
  • Then share it with someone who hasn’t experienced this memory. And ask for a story in return.
The final step: if there is still time (before October 30th, 2018) submit your story to THE CONTEST.

If you share your story on social media, please add the hashtag #LookWonderDiscover and we’ll look out for your story --because that’s what we do, we look, we wonder, we discover.