A Community of Crows

crowsI once had a writing teacher complain when I used the word ‘family’ to describe the band my mustang once led when he was living as a wild horse. Her objection revolved around a body of literature that sentimentalizes the horse, makes it a kind of human on four legs, or describes the sad tale of how a horse was ‘rescued’ from neglect or even death. Families are a human term, she said. We deprive animals of respect when we anthropomorphize them and give them human attributes.

I understand the objection, because I too tire of sentimentalizing animals and not letting them be what they are.

But what they are, to us specifically, is the issue. Horses, crows and other animals are not human. I agree they don’t experience emotions in the same way we do, nor do they care about us in the same way we care about them. Horses are not humans on four legs.

But describing them as living in families is as arbitrary as saying they live in herds, bands, flocks. Language shapes the way we feel about things, how we experience what we do, how we frame our relationship to other people, beings, the world.

So why not call a group of beings that live together, bear young, teach their young the ways of the world, protect and look out for each other, forming bonds of friendship and, dare we say it, love, “families.” How does it take away from a horse being a horse to use the arbitrary human word “family” instead of the arbitrarily devised human word “herd”?

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