“No one is going to have any idea what those photos even are,” said Shoko. And then we looked again — multiple pictures of giraffes and jackals on our beautiful new website — mostly jackals! And no context! It seemed a little…odd.
So here is the story behind the giraffes and jackals.
In the early days of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), Marshall Rosenberg chose the giraffe as the symbol of the new language he was creating. He had several reasons for this. The giraffe has the largest heart of any land animal. It’s very strong and can kill a lion with a kick when it is threatened. It has a long neck and can see far, and my favorite: it has a gland on its palate that can dissolve thorns, because it gets its nourishment from thorny leaves.
So that explains the giraffe.
The jackals came later. Since Marshall had a name for the new way of speaking “giraffe language,” he was wondering what to call the habitual way of speaking. One day while riding in a car with a person hosting a workshop, she referred to the “jackal” she was going home to. The next day he mentioned “jackal-ing” in the workshop and asked if people knew what he was talking about — what “jackaling” language would sound like — they did indeed know and thought it was an excellent description of language we don’t often enjoy, though we hear it often. So the jackal became the symbol of the language most of the world has been conditioned to speak: the language of blame and shame.
I think that Jackals get a bad rap, and that is why I collect photos of jackal puppies. Jackals are dogs, after all, “a human’s best friend,” and they bark and bite to protect what they cherish. What we call jackal language or jackal thoughts can reveal something very precious that those wild dogs are trying to protect. What jackals need is a little tender loving care. Just as if you were trying to tame a wild dog, you bring them to a place by the fire, feed them, love them, and be patient with them until you establish a bond that serves you both. Don’t forget that they can bite, and always remember that they are protecting something precious when they do.
Our practice is a practice of taming the jackals. And also of becoming giraffe-like in our strength and ability to dissolve thorns, with a heart large enough to cherish us all.
The illustration of the giraffe with the little jackals that you see on this blog page is from an oil painting made by Elise Marthe (my daughter) as a Christmas gift.