If you’re a regular reader of my blog, I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that I’m just a little bit in awe of science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein – for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he’s one of a microscopic collection of authors who can make me cry.
Heinlein had a lot of very strong opinions and ideas about society, culture, religion…and sex. He was the first author I ever read who portrayed marriages with multiple partners in a positive way and redefined my ideas of what family really meant. I read his mind-broadening stories in high school, so I was a very impressionable age.
Here’s one of his quotes:
It may be better to be a live jackal than a dead lion, but it is better still to be a live lion. And usually easier. — Robert A. Heinlein
It’s surprising how often this idea applies.
Lions are the kings of the animal world and they’re carnivores…hunters. So are humans. The best human lions are rich, successful, thin, healthy, attractive (even the ugly ones – there’s a patina of beauty that comes with success) and usually famous – at least in their own world.
Jackals are scavengers. Bottom-feeding is generally considered to be a negative behaviour, evoking social ostracism at the extreme, but most often causing those around the bottom-feeder to shrink back in disgust.
There are a lot of behaviors that could fall into the same category as bottom-feeding: gaming the system (any system), hacking private accounts for profit, any crime both white colour and not, that impacts on private citizens’ quality of life (spitting on the sidewalk is included…and so are many forms of rudeness).
Lions, including human lions, are expected to defend the pack, and they always charge in without hesitation. Jackals hang back until the danger has passed before moving in for their share.
While jackals are very good at surviving, the human variety have a conscience – even a deeply buried one. Also, human jackals spend 24/7 watching over their shoulders and keeping their backs against walls. That doesn’t make for a superior quality of life.
Lions have an easier time of it in this regard. They have a clean conscience, and they’re rewarded for being moral and ethical, honorable and courageous. They also often get the better share of the good stuff in life.
So yeah, it’s probably smarter to aim to be a live lion, as difficult as that can be.