History of Jackal and Giraffe

Listen to Marshall Rosenberg share how he came to use the jackal and the giraffe in his communication workshops.

History of Jackal and Giraffe - 1991
Marshall Rosenberg – The History of Jackal and Giraffe – 1991

Transcript – Birth of the Jackal and the Giraffe

Participant: I wonder, where did the giraffe and the jackal come from?

How did I get those things in my mind, the jackal and the giraffe?
The jackal came from outer space.

I was driving with a woman to a workshop. And she said: “Would you mind working on my relationship with my husband while we drive?”

I admired this woman’s stick-to-itiveness, because I had been staying at her house and every day she wanted to work on that relationship. So I was in a playful mood and I said to her: “You’re not tired of working on that jackal?”

And she thought that was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. Don’t ask me where that came from! I had never used the words before. ”You’re not tired working on that jackal?”

And she said: “Oh yes! That’s just what he is – a jackal, oh yes!”

So that day – with her laughter still in my ears – I said to the group, instead of starting as I usually do:
“Is there somebody at the moment who’s doing something you don’t like?
And then we see how to speak Giraffe with that person.”

That day I said:
“Do any of you know a jackal?”

And everybody knew a jackal! I was amazed! Everybody knows a jackal!

And then I said:
“Would you like to learn how to tame a jackal today?”

Everybody wanted to know how to tame a jackal. So for the first time that day I decided to present how to tame a jackal. I never thought I’d do it again.

And I probably wouldn’t have, except that some woman who was there, she enjoyed the day, she bought me this as a memento. [Marshall showing the jackal puppet.] So I thought to myself, “Well, the next child I meet will have a nice present”. I put it in my suitcase.

But the next town I still remembered how much fun people had with the jackal.
So I said. “Any of you know a jackal?”
Everybody knew a jackal in that town too!

And then I remembered this thing in my suitcase.
And then I found out that this looked like all of their jackals.

And then I thought: “Well wouldn’t it be fun to have a partner to this, that kind of represented the other side of things?” What animal?

The Duck as the First Partner of the Jackal

I picked the duck. I picked the duck, the duck turned into a giraffe in Sweden. I’ll tell you that in a minute. But I picked the duck to go with the jackal.

Why a duck? Because when my children were young, I would take them to the pond to feed ducks. And they had a wonderful look on their face. You couldn’t tell who was getting fed. You’d have sworn that the children were being fed but you see this is what I really believe human beings are like when we’re really functioning as human beings. We get as much joy giving, as other people do receiving. That’s what keeps the world together and spite all of the craziness, it’s that: That is really the most fun , when you really get down to it.

So I used duck language to represent that communication which helps us to get to that place with each other where we can enjoy giving and receiving with the same joy the children feel feeding a hungry duck.

So I had this duck and I was very happy with my duck. Until I went to Sweden a couple of years ago and they wanted to do a videotape of my work. And the director said: “You know, you need a stronger looking figure for compassion and non-violence, than your duck. Your duck looks like it’s about to get eaten at any minute by that jackal.

And yeah, I said, that did bother me.
And I don’t want anybody to think of non-violence or compassion as weak.
So now what animal?

So I went down to Canada next. I had one month to find an animal. And I’m into a toy store. Oh I’m looking all over the place at these different animals, trying to imagine them on the video, trying to imagine how I could weave them in to my workshop. And I’m trying them and I imagine them with the jackal. And this is taking me longer than I realized and the toy store owner is getting worried about me. Because all of a sudden she’s standing over me saying very nervously: “Are you looking for a young child or for an older child?” I said “Well, to tell you the truth I was looking for myself” and she says: “That’s quite all right!!” But her eyes got very large. I thought she might be happier if I left, so I left without finding an animal.

The Giraffe as Partner of the Jackal

And I’m glad I did, because I shortly thereafter heard about the giraffe project.

This is a project that each month honors a citizen somewhere in the world that sticks their neck out in the service of compassion, the kind of person we all know, but you don’t hear about them in the newspapers, but they’re really sticking their necks out all the time for other people.

And so this project tries to find such people and advertise their efforts. So that we don’t just hear about violence in the news. And they picked the giraffe, because of its vision.

It has this vision that can help it to see, whether what we’re doing now is an ecologically unsafe strategy. The giraffe can see that punishment never works. It never works. They can see the consequences. Giraffes have the largest heart of any land animal. They have to pump the blood a long way to get it up to the brain. And the language of giraffes that I feel is conducive to conflict resolution is the language of the heart. See, when we speak Giraffe, we only reveal our feelings, we only reveal our needs, our requests. We don’t evaluate the other person, we don’t judge, criticize. Our evaluations, our value judgments are only in terms of our feelings, our values. That’s a language of heart.

And the giraffe lives its life with this wonderful combination of gentleness and strength – that combination. So to speak Giraffe requires a lot of strength to assert what you want.

As I said earlier, a giraffe says: “I would like you to …”
Nothing passive about it.

“I would like you to …” We’re very clear, very direct.
Here’s my value: “I would like you to …”

But we say in word and deed: “If you are willing.”
That’s the gentleness.

We don’t want people to do things out of fear, guilt, shame …
So: “If you are willing.”

“Please don’t do it until you are willing, because you see how it will contribute to life.”

“Don’t do anything until you can see how it contributes to life.”
“Don’t do things for rewards.”
“Don’t do things to escape punishment.”
“Don’t do things for approval.”

“Do things only when you see how it contributes to life.”