Figuratively speaking, we've got the bottom feeders/parasite types, the predator/top-dog types, the community-loving, group dwelling types, the isolated/loner types, the herbavores, the meat eaters and the omnivores, the cooperative and the anti-social, the passive and the aggressive, the hard working and the opportunistic, and on it goes. Similarly, it is said that the human embryo mimics 3.8 billion years of evolution as it develops from a single cell organism and begins to take on the characteristics first of acquadic life, then reptilian, then mamalian, then primate and finally human. The fact that we continue to embody certain characteristics of our ancient lineage should come as no surprise.
Chinese astrology sums it up brilliantly by using 12 different animals types to classify human nature: Boar (or Pig), Rat, Ox Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster and Dog. The beautiful thing about this system is that no one type is revered above another - all have their up side and down side, their role to play in the big picture. In The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes Theodora Lau writes, "Listen to the wise words of the Snake, look for sympathy from the gentle Sheep, go along witht the clever schemes of the Monkey, have fun with the ever youthful and carefree Horse, rely on the Rabbit's unerring diplomacy or depend on the strength of the indomitable Dragon. And you may get your way by humouring the critical Rooster, reasoning with the Dog, going into battle with the optimistic Tiger or bargaining with the indefatigable Rat." (pl 12)
What the Chinese seem to understand, and we in the west generally do not, is that there is an inherent balance in our human ecosystem. We, on the other hand, percieve the the system as stressed - there are too many of (or too few) of certain "types." Thus, emotions run high and fingers get pointed. Just open any newspaper and read about the anger and suspicion that various groups project onto each other. How come we readily accept that cats are cats and dogs are dogs and yet have such trouble respecting the differences amongst people?
Great teachers throughout the ages have urged us not to judge our neighbors, but to love them. But sometimes the simplest ideas are the hardest to impliment. I find it helps if I remember what a wise friend once said to me: "There are 1st-graders, 2nd-graders, 3rd-graders, etc. We don't hate 1st-graders becasue they aren't in high school!" Good point. First grade is no better or worse than any other grade - it's just different, embracing a different set of skills and challenges for kids at that stage of development. And so it is with the rest of us "big kids."
Another source of Chinese wisdom, the Tao Te Ching says, "What is a good man but a bad man's teacher? What is a bad man but a good man's job? If you don't understand this, you will get lost, no matter how intelligent you are. It is the great secret." So now you know. I for one, will not be keeping this secret under my hat. I invite you to do the same.
(If you are interested in a deeper understanding of the Tao Te Ching, I highly recommend A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony With The Way Things Are by Byron Katie.)