Saturday, May 13, 2017

The sorting alley.

For all you city dwellers out there, please bear with me.

If you have been around a cattle ranch for any amount of time, you have sorted cattle. By sort, I mean taking a large group of critters and dividing them into smaller sub-groups. Mother cows and calves in one pen, bulls in another, weened steers and heifers in their own separate places, etc. To do this you need one of two things; A well built sorting alley that has been logically designed with that purpose in mind, or a set of pens, and a few really good horses, and cowboys who know what they are doing.

Both will work, and while I do love to watch a good hand on a finished horse work cattle in an alleyway. To be honest, I would rather have a welded pipe sorting alley, with heavy duty Powder River gates that swing both ways, hang straight and shut tight with one hand.  (I just read that line back and it sounds a bit dirty; oh well)

With a sturdy, well designed sorting alley, I can grab anyone with a pulse, an above room temperature IQ, and go sort cattle. If they can understand two words: In and By.

I'm not sure if In and By are universal terms in feedlots, auction yards and corrals across America, but they seem to be. I like using them because you can't mistake the two words, even with a Texas, Australian, or any other accent.

If you sort off a cow and send it down the alley, you yell "IN!" the person swings the gate into the alley, blocking the alley and opening the first pen. The cow will see the opening and 95% of the time will just trot into the correct pen. If you yell "BY" the person keeps that gate closed, moves to one side of the alley, to leave plenty of room for the cow to go by, and it trots by the gate and down the alley to an open pen.

You may ask yourself, what happens the other 5% of the time? Bad things. Bad things happen.

These bad things happen when cows decide against the path of least resistance and chose their own path. Their path usually involves pain, bent pipes, broken boards, broken bones, scars, black eyes and funny/horrific stories you tell you buddies at the bar. I have a few stories that involve the line, "so after he flipped me over his head, there I was, upside down in the crowding alley hoping the bull wouldn't come back to finish the job."

We sort cattle for a specific purpose. To separate calves from their mothers when It's time to ween them. To give a certain group a specific vaccine or treatment. Sometimes we sort them into groups because we want all the same kinds going to one place, to the sale yard for example.

The worst thing that happens in the sorting pens is after you worked all day to sort a few hundred head of cattle into the groups you want them, and someone forgets to latch a gate. Or the cattle break down a fence and they get mixed back together. (it just gives me a shiver to think about it)

So why are we talking about cows? Sorting cows is easy to understand. What about people? Well, we sort people in everyday life too. I don't know why we do it, I just know we do. Everyone does. Yes, even you and yes, even me.

I think it might be a product of our evolution. When we see someone, walking down the street, next to us in line at the store, in the elevator as the doors close, our brain asks the question; Friend or foe? Am I going to be safe with this person or is there a danger here? From the beginning of time, if you were bad at picking out dangerous people, your bloodline was killed off.

You were smashed in the head with a rock, or stabbed with a sharp stick, all the while thinking, hmmm, they seemed friendly enough.

That kind of friend or foe mindset is foreign to most of us these days. Unless you are police officer, a soldier, a night shift guy at the convenience store, or just live on the street in a bad part of town, the chances of you bumping into real life-threatening danger is remote at best. But we still sort people all the time.

One of the easiest ways to sort people is simple; do they look like me? If they do, there's a better than average chance they are kind of like me, or at least share the same set of basic values I do. If they don't look me, or dress like me, or speak the same language, the easiest thing to do is to assume they are not like me. If they are different from me, they go into the "not quite sure about this guy" pen before I add them to the 'people like me' list.

Now I can already hear you now saying, "No, that's just you racist hillbillies, I don't judge anyone by how they look." That my friend, is pure manure. I guarantee I can put you in a situation, no matter your race, creed or color, where that 'friend or foe' mechanism will be working overtime as you try to navigate your way back to familiar surroundings.

I guess we are a product of our environment to some degree. If all you see around you are people who look like you, it's easier to think of everyone outside of that environment as "Them".

Them, they, those people; basically people who are not like you.

Sometimes it goes far beyond what we look like. I know plenty of people whose skin, hair and eye color are the same as mine, but we don't share the same world views, political views, religious views, or any number of different views.

It is easy for me to sort these people into their own 'them' groups. Liberals, socialists, conservatives, lunatics, Trump supporters, etc. Once someone puts you into a group, it's hard to make your way out. We keep those pens shut tight. We all do it.

The one and only time we met, you may have said something that put you into one of my groups, and there you will stay until we meet again.

It's kind of a harsh reality, but we all do it to a certain extent. If I see a Hillary sticker on your car, you are immediately sorted into the Liberal group. If I see an Obama 08' and 12' and Sanders 16' sticker on your car, you move to the Socialist group. It works both ways too. If you see my NRA Life Member card when I buy lunch, you will sort me into the Crazy Gun Guy group. (and I'm not saying you would be wrong either)

Now, I know many friends who voted for Hillary, and I even if I do sort them into the Liberal pen, it doesn't mean we can't be good friends. It just means I need to have them screened for other mental illnesses. I kid, I kid.

One of my friends, who I worked with for years, is an African American fellow. We spent many, many a swing shift hour talking about our shared faith, our divergent political views, and race relations in America. We don't agree on everything, in fact, we have spirited disagreements about quite a few things. All that being said: I love that guy. He is a good dude. He is one of 'my kind' of people.

The strange thing is, I've known people for years, people who look like me, talk like me, dress like me, and probably share most of my political views, who are not 'my kind' people.

They are not interested in the world around them, they are not interested in ideas, and they certainly are not interested in looking inward at themselves. They are closed minded. All their problems are caused by someone or something outside their control. They are victims of all sorts of forces aligned against them.

I guess if there are any lessons to be learned, it's that we all sort people. Sometimes it's a necessity, based on the situation. Most of the times it just our brain working in the background yelling IN! and BY!

I know it takes a conscious effort, but we should get to know people a bit more before we sort them into a pen they may not belong in. I know I need to work harder at that.

How many friends have I passed up, or not engaged with because they looked or thought differently than I did? How many poisonous people have I let into my life because we they looked like me and shared similar views on a certain things?

In today's political climate, sorting people seems to be what we do first. I wish we wouldn't. I will try to be better at this, or at least open the pens a lot sooner and let them find their way to where they belong.

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