Communication Consultant and Coach

We used to say that opposable thumbs made civilization possible. That although dolphins, who demonstrate family loyalty and sociality, are as intelligent as human beings, their lack of opposable thumbs prevents them from building tools and shaping their natural world. But great civilizations are built on more than stone and mortar. Our greatest achievement depends not on our thumbs but on our hearts.

What other animal species matches human intelligence, sociability, dexterity, family loyalty? One species that practices peace and harmony more consistently than some human beings is the bonobo. That bonobos resolve interpersonal conflict with little violence is common knowledge among optimists who reach out to learn from other species nowadays. But until I saw these photos, it never occurred to me that such wisdom and compassion could be captured in a single moment between adult and child.

In the photo “Tickled,” the adult’s hand, so large and dark and wrinkled, radiates calm knowing kindness. The smiles feel like the smiles on my face and that of my grandchild when I tickle him. We are the same. The moment of suspense drenched in familiarity: “Do it again! Tickle me! Again!” He laughs. It is a simple thing, tickling a young one. It is a tactile bridge that promises a world of love, safety, and gentle play.

Later it becomes a bridge with a gate, a time to learn to say no. “Tickle me! Stop! Don’t tickle me!” And in this way, the child learns how to draw boundaries that affirm his wholeness, her right to control her own body, their intimate foundation for a life of giving and receiving love and respect.


Bonobo – TICKLED

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