Discover more from JASPER, a black pansy mag
No baby, you're not an alpha
And that's okay!
You are not an alpha.
No, baby, not you either. It’s okay! Neither am I.
Let me explain.
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The term “alpha male/female” was coined back in 1970 by animal behaviorist David Mech.
In his book, The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species, with a little help from Rudolph Schenkel’s earlier findings, Mech found that wolf packs clearly followed a social hierarchy led by a superior wolf known as the "alpha."
Mech further claimed that wolves would often fight among themselves to establish this alpha ranking. He also said later that it was actually an alpha couple, a male and female.
Western culture quickly adopted this frame of thinking for humans. Many of us understand that an alpha is someone at the top of the social status hierarchy, typically some guy we deem the strongest, most confident, and most assertive in any given setting.
But here’s the thing…
Those “alphas” Mech observed were not simply the strongest, baddest bitches in the pack. No.
Mech soon discovered that the one or two wolves he’d call alpha were actually the parents of the rest of the pack. Quite literally, the parental leaders of their children.
And here’s the other thing: Mech’s initial observations were of wolf packs held in captivity. Not at all representative of natural behaviors found in wolves.
When Mech observed wolf packs in their natural habitat, the parents and their packs were understood to behave like any number of healthy animal families.
So, here we are. This entirely mythical concept, that even its creator keeps asking us to drop, continues to fuel many a tech bro office space today. Yet, we can’t let it go?
And no, there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be a leader. We should all be leaders in certain aspects of our lives.
But this whole idea of being an alpha personality, an inevitably authoritarian figure by the sheer nature of your being, seems a misleading goal.
It implies this predetermined hierarchy that Western culture is so attached to; this idea that some of us deserve respect and others just don’t. It’s facilitated entire empires, many forms of racism, classism, our current political climate…
And since we all understand that wolves can fight their way into alpha status (see: what humans call toxic masculinity), we seem to have deemed this tactic the easiest way to gain power. Who can puff their chest the furthest? Legit, a whole entire podcasting industry of “betas-turned-alphas” live by this idea. It’s a mess.
I do get it. Who among us doesn’t want respect and validation? Who among us doesn’t want to feel worthy of being fully heard and seen?
But the fact is, you ain’t gotta be an alpha for that. It’s called self confidence, and the road to it goes way deeper than any alpha journey ever could.
I say all this to say, if you or your loved ones’ still out here calling people alphas: Y’all gotta stop it. Please and thank you so very much.
This has been a public service announcement.
Days ago, facing a colorful shelf in my living room, I stared quite obsessively at a tiny brown elephant, intricately handcrafted out of wood.
It was a gift. One given to me so graciously nearly 10 years ago by my intern, back when I worked at [redacted].
She told me on her last day in the office, “My mother brought this back from India. I want you to have it.”
I bout cried as I held that beautiful ornament in the palms of my hands.
I remember the moment like it was yesterday… yet. Yet. In the moment that this memory found me, I could not for the life of me remember this dear person’s name.
Now, if you know anything about this newsletter, you know that this was only the beginning of this story.
Indeed, this moment sent me into one of my many existential spirals…
Because what is a gift without the knowledge of its giver but an object without a spiritual home, taking up proverbial space?
I’ve been reading Braiding Sweetgrass, a phenomenal book by plant scientist and citizen of Potawatomi Nation, Robin Wall Kimmerer.
Even this book’s namesake speaks of the power of gifts. Sweetgrass, a plant indigenous to North America, can only be gifted for Native ceremonies, never bought, as it then loses its spiritual power.
Of many striking lessons in the book, Kimmerer makes the point that we humans are the only someones on earth who can show gratitude. She calls this our collective gift. But what hit me most was her point thereafter, “To carry a gift is also to carry a responsibility.”
What does the ability to show gratitude mean in a capitalist, heavily consumerist society? Well, what are the wads of crumpled paper in your trash if you do not remember the gift of trees? What is the spoiled butter lettuce in your fridge if you do not remember the gift of leafy greens?
We’re surrounded by gifts from gifters who don’t speak our language. Who cannot say, “you’re welcome” to our “thank you.” But, who can grow sick or extinct, or die en masse in our lack of care and appreciation. Are those not all responses to our lack of gratitude?
My exchange at work years ago is a metaphor for Sweetgrass’ teachings—of the importance of remembering the origin of gifts.
The elephant is sacred in many Indian cultures, representing intellectual strength, prosperity and so much more.
Her giving me that specific sculpture so brilliantly represented her and my audacity to thrive as two of the only brown people in our very white office. It could have meant something so different coming from anyone else but it came from her.
So, I cannot fully appreciate that gift if I can’t fully appreciate her being, not know her name.
Our society teaches us that things are just things. Stuff is just stuff, food is food. But I wonder, how much more well off could the world be if we knew better?
If even vegans…
(who be a lil too smug like y’all are the gift—a thing I can say comfortably as a former vegan so don’t. Try. Me.)
…recognized that we cannot live without earth’s gifts.
As Kimmerer says, “Everything we put in our mouths, everything that allows us to live, is the gift of another life.”
I remember my intern’s name now, and I will never forget it. But as I’ll ask myself more often now, will you remember the origin of the next gift you receive? And if you cannot speak to its giver, how will you pay it forward?
Questions for a rainy day.
Thank y’all for reading. Been loving interacting with y’all so as always, you can respond to this email or leave a comment below for all to see.
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