[FOUNTAIN]A confusing time for birds and in-lawsThe term “pecking order,” referring to a social hierarchy, has its origin in the pattern of social organization that exists within a flock of poultry. It uses the word “pecking” instead of “biting” or “beating” because it describes the behavior one can observe among chickens.
In a society of chickens, a stronger bird pecks a weaker one, which in turn pecks a bird that is even weaker. As a result, a vertical social order is created, from the strongest to the weakest. The bird at the top of the order will always peck others, and the one at the bottom will always be pecked.
Zoologists have found that a similar patten exists in all groups of animals. Whether they literally “peck” or not, animals are known to instinctively create a pecking order. Human beings are no exception. This is a different concept from the class system. It means that in any organization, an unofficial, unspoken hierarchy will be created.
Once a pecking order is established, unnecessary arguments and fights can be avoided. If the order is ignored and people start to “peck” one another randomly, it strains the social structure. Etiquettes and manners can be seen as a way of maintaining the pecking order.
In Korean society, the military is the organization with the most obvious pecking order. When you first join the military, you are at the bottom of the pecking order. When new conscripts come in, you have someone else to peck. The more time you spend in the army, the higher you climb in the pyramid.
A similar pattern exists in a family, society’s most basic element. A pecking order is established not only between the parents and the children, but among siblings. When families and relatives gather on holidays, the pecking order can expand and change. Family members accustomed to pecking others can themselves be pecked during the holiday season. Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law often experience uncomfortable changes in the pecking order. Women who hold economic sway in their households often retreat to the kitchen. This change in pecking order may be responsible for the so-called “holiday syndrome.” Therefore, we should all try to find a way to lessen the pain of being pecked ― especially those of us who enjoy the fun of pecking, albeit temporarily.
by Nahm Yoon-ho
The writer is head of the family affairs team at the JoongAng Ilbo.