Consider migratory birds, the ones that travel in V-shaped flocks enormous distances through strong air currents.
Consider the V-shape: it means that one bird is in front battling it out, while the others float in his slipstream.
How do they get the volunteers to fly in front? Is it a clan thing, the alpha bird in front? This would make sense from an evolutionary standpoint.
But apparently that's not the case.
The stuff you learn when you read the newspapers on a Saturday morning. Does it matter?
Anyway. It turns out that it does, at least to a group of scientists who followed 14 juvenile bald ibises fitted with GPS gadgets on one of their long journeys. Some of the birds were siblings, but most were not related. Flying in formation they changed their positions cooperatively, taking turns so that all the birds got a chance to surf and all did hard work at the front, switching positions automatically and continuously, so quickly that it would be hard to see with the naked eye.
Apparently, this finding provides a rare and “convincing example” of reciprocal altruism in animals.
Ok, it's only birds. But what if we were to follow their example? To do something without calculating the return? To give and take so quickly that we wouldn't even notice and probably not even remember? A scenario where self-interest and helpfulness are not seen as opposites but as mutually dependent. Oh my.