I just settled down to finally get to the task of writing an “Amazing Nature” article for the Daily Mirror.

I spent some time sorting my thoughts; today’s topic is a delicate one, and it is a matter of much consideration how to broach it with the appropriate tone. Too aggressive and I risk offending people I have no intention of offending. Too little detail and I risk losing the point I am trying to make.

I find myself in the field between attack and flight. Naturally, I resolve the issue by getting up and getting myself some yogurt.

In German, this behavior is called a “Übersprungshandlung.” Literally translated, this means a jump-over-activity. 

The English term used is “displacement activity,” which is a common response in animals when faced with a fight-or-flight decision. They do something completely unrelated and tension-diffusing instead.

There are many examples of this: When my dog was young and I started training her, we did not always communicate clearly and I would sometimes get a little frustrated when she did not get what I was asking. This often resulted in her getting frustrated and, being a husky, she would vocalize her frustration by bark-talking at me. The dog was conflicted over what to do, and chose to do something unrelated, which just happened to sound like she was arguing. 

On his website with the interesting title “salmonography” and great pictures, the author Tom Kline attributed several behaviors of salmon on crowded spawning grounds in Cordova to this phenomenon: A female salmon digging her redd was disturbed by fighting males.  Faced with the decision whether to chase them away or leaving her redd, she would start to dig somewhere close by, only to return to her spot when the boys moved to quarrel somewhere else. 

However, when Googling the term “displacement activity,” the results are not limited to the definition of this interesting psychological phenomenon.

Displacement can result from the decision not to fight, as it has and does for hundreds of thousands of people leaving their homes in times of unrest and war.

Unfortunately, rarely do people who leave their home find a welcoming situation. Any newcomer in any human or animal society has to fend for their place in that social structure.

If you put a new fish into your aquarium, you can watch the resident fish chase it away.

If you have a group of immigrants moving across the border, there is a chance they will encounter xenophobic reactions. Xenophobia is the fear of otherness — specifically, fear of people from other countries.

In animals, this is straightforward and understandable, since every newcomer in any habitat structure is a competitor for the resources, whether this is the food they eat, the shelter they require or the mates they will be looking for.

Xenophobia in people is all that plus a fear of the corruption of our routines, our lifestyle and our ideals. Even if we may not face up to it, each of us is, at some level, convinced that our way of living is the only right way. It always fascinates me that people can fear strangers coming into their lives, but at the same time spend every opportunity making plans to see the world and dream of traveling.

Realizing the connection between xenophobic tendencies and the deep-rooted problem of inequality, there is a growing tendency in our country to raise awareness and eliminate the injustice of unequal treatment of minorities.

As a contractor for the federal government, I see and welcome the efforts for more inclusion and more attention to these issues with the ultimate goal of creating more diversity in the leadership of this country.

Personally, I have never felt that I was excluded from professional advancement in the U.S. because I am female or because I come from another country.

Also, looking around me now, I see many more young women in science and leadership positions than was the case 20 years ago. Yet, I am observing the inclusion efforts with a cheer and a worry.

In biology, if a new species enters an ecosystem, we call that a “range spread.” However, if this new species becomes too successful and outcompetes some native species, it is called an “invasive.” We then fund programs to fight the invasive species and feel empowered in labeling them as evil invaders. This applies to zebra mussels and green crab, to orange hawkweed and thistles, and many more.

I wonder what will happen when our programs for equality are successful. The world will change, and the resources will be allotted more equally. This means that some of us will get less, have fewer chances and feel less empowered, less included and less supported.

In helping one group of society, we are inadvertently disempowering another. Is it more empowering in this climate to be a minority because support toward success is available?

The ones who are paying the price for this development are young white men, who are going out of fashion! In raising awareness for every minority, we are swinging the justice pendulum and creating another pole of injustice.

Inclusion cannot be accomplished by exclusion of any one group. For a white male who wants a diverse and inclusive society, it is difficult these days to do right. What an odd and uncomfortable dilemma — to be an oppressed majority. 

White males in a culture striving for better diversity are driven into the field of the fight-or-flight response. Will they fight for their access to leadership and opportunity, or will we lose our boys to not knowing where to find a place in this world where they are welcome?

Since I find myself conflicted over these concerns, I will stop here and go grocery shopping. It is an amazing dilemma.

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