We can all learn from donkeys


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



It is not always just a matter of stubbornness. People sometimes get stuck in a rut or just get too comfortable and rather than moving in the right direction, they find it easier not to move at all.

We might be able to take a lesson from farm animals and 4-H advisers to fix the problem.

A good friend named Mike has been a 4-H adviser for over 40 years. Debbie and I were visiting him and his wife on their farm a few years ago and I notice he had a little, four-legged animal grazing in one of his fields. I asked if it was a jackass or a mule. (I’m a city boy. All I knew for sure was that it wasn’t a horse.)

Mike laughed and told me it was a donkey. He then explained the differences between donkeys, mules and jackasses — differences that I promptly forgot.

I asked what he was doing with a donkey grazing out in his field. Was it a pet or did it do some kind of special donkey-business on the farm? He told me he used it to help train cattle.

That made no sense at all to this city boy. So, I told Mike I needed more information than that.

It fascinated me to learn that steers, heifers and other types of cattle that are shown at the county fair by young 4-H kids don’t always like to be led around by a rope. I had seen this before at the fair.

During various cattle shows, some youngsters would almost break down in tears because their normally docile, well-behaved heifer would dig in their heels (or hoofs) and refuse to be moved.

The 4-H’er would pull and coax, but nothing would happen until an adult ring-worker would grab the animal’s tail and give it a firm squeeze or twist. It must be uncomfortable to have someone twist your tail because the huge critter would quickly start moving.

Mike explained that some cattle just refuse to be trained. They just hate to be led around by a rope. In that situation, like many other experienced 4-H-cattle-showers, Mike would tie the stubborn animal to the halter of the donkey.

Come to find out, donkeys don’t tolerate any monkey business.

The donkey will wander around the field anywhere he wants to go. His stubborn companion will follow him or risk getting kicked by the donkey. Cattle may be stubborn, but few animals can beat a donkey when it comes to natural-born stubbornness.

It doesn’t take very long for the steer, heifer, bull, feeder calf or whatever word best describes the big, stubborn animal to learn a simple lesson. Walk whenever the lead-rope is pulled. At least that’s the theory.

What works well with a donkey in an open field doesn’t always work during a showmanship program in a crowded fair building, but it’s an interesting approach to the subject of risk and reward.

The steer will either behave itself and walk or risk a quick kick.

Stubborn, hard-headed, uncooperative, bull-headed, obstinate, headstrong, willful, pigheaded, contrary and recalcitrant. Those adjectives can certainly be used to describe some four-legged farm animal that has a bad attitude, but it also reminds me of adjectives that have been used to describe many people who roam the halls of Congress.

I certainly appreciate someone who is stubborn because they refuse to compromise an ethical stance. Anyone who works doggedly, stubbornly to serve and protect the citizens they represent, should be thanked and supported for their efforts.

Unfortunately, we don’t always see that. What is more likely is that someone will simply refuse to work with anyone who doesn’t share the same political banner they are flying.

Democrats refuse to work with Republicans. Republicans will not cooperate with Democrats. Nobody works with Independents or Libertarians. Good ideas are left to languish for lack of support because some special interest group is willing to pay lobbyists to influence the outcome of voting.

Citizens are left unserved because someone offers a huge campaign contribution to the right person.

This sad situation is progressively becoming even sadder.

Maybe we need to harness a few donkeys to a few members of Congress. It might be cheaper to find someone to clean up the mess the donkeys might make in the halls of Congress, than it would cost to clean up the mess the politicians are making.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist