I grew up around dairy farmers and all they talked about were cows. My uncles Garth and Wilbur were keen observers of what we now call “group dynamics”. If a cow didn’t like who was standing next to them in their stall, they would bitch and moan and the whole herd would stop giving milk. To keep the cows happy, an enormous amount of time and energy went into close observation of their individual personalities. When the right order was in place and cows were next to other cows that they respected and got along with, milk ran like a river.
It was truly mysterious why cows liked or didn’t like each other. A new cow would come into the herd and be everybody’s best friend. Another cow would arrive and get bullied. Certain cows had excellent social skills but weren’t liked. Others were socially tone deaf and hugely popular. Each cow had a very specific emotional profile. Some were grounded, some were not. Some liked country music – others liked show tunes. There were “Ringo” cows – around whom high-strung cows would relax and “Yoko” cows – who would endlessly connive to sow discord. Some cows were “introverts” and refused to leave their stalls until coaxed and reassured. Other “extrovert” cows would stand in front of the herd primping and drawing attention with heroic bovine poses. There was at least one cow in every herd who had a severe narcissistic disorder . In our herd this “diva cow” was Flossie, who would break into a hissy fit at the drop of a hat. If she didn’t like the way another cow was looking at her or if a cigarette butt hadn’t been picked up off the cow path, she would stop the whole show. Anything infintesimally wrong, anything at all – would result in her locking her legs and bellowing like a car alarm.
From a lifetime of experience, my Uncles knew that you could have a lot of ideas about how you wanted cows to be. You could try to train them into some kind of a behavioral structure, but the truth of the matter was that if you wanted milk, you had to check your ego at the herd. It was by far better to respond to Flossie’s caterwauling with fawning attention – “My dearest Flossie! Is there a speck of dust in your oats? How could I have ever been so thoughtless! Let me get rid of it right now!!!” – than to chastise her, and shut the whole herd down.
The truth of the matter was that Flossie was doing your work for you. She was an early warning signal that let you know of issues and problems only a diva cow could sense, before they became real trouble . Flossie’s “attitude problem” was a gift.