Goldfish lessons

Dear President Biden,

Early this morning I had a semi-major “whoa – wait a minute!” kind of realization thinking about how little tiny aquarium goldfish an inch long can grow into football-size behemoths when they’re free to roam around in lakes. It wasn’t as though I didn’t know about the gorgeous orange and red spotted goldfish that sometimes populate fancy ponds, but I always thought they were an entirely different species that was just large as a matter of course. Finding out that the same goldfish that would typically top out at 1”, maybe 2”, in a modest sized tank can grow to 10” to 14” when released to the wild gave me a jolt.

Of course I had to read up on goldfish this evening to make sure I was really following the WP article about pet goldfish getting huge and literally running amuck in the wild and so I turned to Wikipedia, which has a pretty nice spread on them, including their history, natural habitats, and how they’re good at mosquito control. Apparently if they are cared for properly, goldfish can live longer than 10 years and with some solid positive reinforcement training (in the form of food), they can learn some good tricks. I also learned why it’s a terrible idea to pet goldfish – they need their slimy coating to survive and it gets rubbed off when they are touched by human fingers.

That stuff is interesting, but it’s the difference between the small-tank-captive versions of goldfish and the free-to-roam-lake versions that’s captured my imagination and has my brain racing around (over-) thinking parallels with humans. When pet goldfish are no longer confined to their literal glass boxes, they become something quite different (those that survive the transition, that is). The Wikipedia page doesn’t really say anything about their behavior in the wild except that they like silty lake bottoms and munching mosquitoes, but clearly they are trying lots of new foods and surely must be learning to evade predators. And they thrive. Out in the wild.

I have no idea whether pet goldfish confined to tanks are aware at some level that they’re captive and that they could be having wildly different existences out in the wild. I doubt it – how could they except on some super basic instinctual level? It’s sort of like how when we humans either just start to have some realization about our circumstance or we’re trying to help someone else see what’s going on with them and we might use the “it’s like the air we breathe or the water a fish swims in” analogies to demonstrate how hard it is to get what’s really going on. I just never realized how apropos the goldfish in a bowl part of the analogy is…

For example, White privilege has been all but invisible to most White Americans and while we definitely get a lot of unearned benefits from it, our growth and maturation have been massively stunted. And, worse, we put everyone else in our ecosystems at grave risk because we greedily suck up so much of the oxygen, righteously thinking we earned it.

May we all be safe from deadly, myopic perspectives.
May we be willing to risk getting out of our comfy, cozy, constraining tanks.
May we develop the strength to see what needs to be seen.
May we accept that we would all be better off if we could escape the confines of racism (and sexism and all the rest).

Tracy Simpson

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