Humans like to differentiate themselves from animals based on creative cranium capabilities. We think we experience a range of insight and emotions animals lack. We cite how we’re capable of reason while animals are merely guided by instinct. It would seem humans are gifted with superior brain matter while animals rely on things like speed for survival. For instance, confronted with a life threatening danger some animals will stampede in an attempt to outrun their predator. Humans, on the other hand, only stampede when confronted with a stuffed toy, gadget or game whose demand outweighs its supply. See the difference?
Almost every Christmas you hear about a herd of humans storming a mall and trampling other humans in an attempt to procure whatever object has won the advertising wars of the season. Apparently our bountiful brains with their astonishing ability to express emotion, empathy and compassion hit a wall when confronted with Tickle Me Elmo dolls.
But it doesn’t just happen at Christmas. Several months ago I was attending a garden extravaganza that showcases the newest happenings in the plant world. Booths and classrooms spilled across a huge expanse of flower infested greenery, peddling everything from bulbs to information. It was fantastic. In the midst of all the roses, shrubs and trees was a stage where the rock stars of the botanical world took turns wowing the crowd. As one such celebrity was finishing he casually mentioned a certain non profit organization would be giving out free shopping bags to the left of the stage.
We all looked to the left and sure enough, there stood a young lady beside a small box of bags. She wore a friendly, but slightly bored, smile. As the first few people trickled towards her she pulled a bag from the box and held it up. The bag was beautiful. It featured butterflies and frogs on a cream coloured background. A ripple of excitement combed through the crowd, snagging on the realization that the box was small and the crowd was large. As we surged forth towards the unsuspecting Bag Dispenser it was clear our superior human type brains had reached the same three conclusions at the same time. The bags were beautiful. There were more people than bags. If we didn’t get a bag life was no longer worth living.
The young lady no longer looked bored. The line up was abandoned by several elderly members of the crowd, whose wisdom and cunning had them circling their prey instead. Arriving at her elbow they reached across for a bag mumbling an innocent, “Thank you dear” while those of us in the lineup barred our teeth in fake smiles at their boldness.
“Well, I must be the most popular person here,” the bag dispenser said trying to look cheerful as the crowd pressed around her, but we could all see the frightened whites of her eyes as she pulled the last bag from the box.
“I might have another box back at our booth,” she stammered. “I’ll go check.”
The crowd followed her like a pack of wolves on the trail of a wounded deer. You could smell the panic in the air. All this for a free shopping bag! I was disgusted. I was ashamed. I was walking as fast as anyone. And yes, I got my free shopping bag. So did everyone else. Though I suspect we used up all the giveaways for the next three days combined. Small price for keeping the crowd calm I suppose.
Things did not go as well for Nicholas II who was named Tsar of Russia in 1896. Four days after being crowned people began to gather on Khodynka Field for a celebratory banquet extraordinaire. The town square was set up to offer theatres, beer pubs and 150 buffets from which coronation gifts from the tsar would be dispensed. The gifts consisted of a bread roll, a piece of sausage, pretzels, gingerbread and a cup.
By five a.m. thousands of people were already gathered on the field. Before the event even began a rumour swept the crowd that there was not enough beer or pretzels for everyone. Mayhem broke out. Panic ensued. Almost 2000 members of a police force desperately tried to keep order but failed. Records report that 1,389 people were trampled to death while another 1,300 were injured. Some of those gift cups still surface in antique stores today; they’re known as the ‘cup of sorrow’.
Good grief. Not quite the story for the season of raising a cup of cheer. Or is it?
Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com