We can see many lessons for life in the things we see around us, but what lesson can we learn from the birds?
Recently, while reading a book by Christian psychologist James Dobson, I was introduced to a lesson that I won’t soon forget. Dr. Dobson was commenting on the pop psychology parable from the 1970s Jonathon Livingston Seagull, which subscribed to the theory of individuality and independence, as well as the refusal to follow the dictates of society.
The book itself is not important to this article, but the lesson introduced in Dr. Dobson’s book has replayed in my head many times over. He drew a parallel to the virtues of Christian life, and how the “all about me” attitude really flies in the face of true Christianity. Choosing a life of seagull-ism will always prove detrimental.
Seagulls are selfish, even to the point of killing one another in order further themselves. A seagull alone is as wondrous as any other bird, soaring graciously and flying high. However, the seagull becomes quite a different bird when in a flock. Gulls will dive-bomb other seagulls, even kill them, just to steal a tiny morsel. Seagulls are fiercely competitive and jealous, maintaining a “look out for number one” mentality.
This is comically illustrated in the children’s movie Finding Nemo, as the seagulls each shriek, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” whenever they spot something they want. You can’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.
However, according to author Philip Yancey, “If one were to tie a red ribbon around the leg of one gull, making him stand out, you sentence him to execution. The others in his flock will furiously attack him with claws and beaks, hammering through feathers and flesh to draw blood. They’ll continue until he lies flattened in a bloody heap.” A little morbid, I know, but you get the picture. A sea gull will not allow another to be different, or possibly better, than himself.
A different bird
On a lighter note, another bird reflects something more along the lines of behavior that we should strive to model. Geese do not typically fly individually, but tend to thrive in a flock or family. Geese fly in a V formation because it distributes the hardship of travel. The goose at the center point of the V has a greater challenge, as it meets the greatest wind resistance in flight; therefore, this position is rotated every few minutes so that the geese can fly long distances without rest.
The easiest position is at the rear of the V. The stronger geese, consequently, allow the young, weak or old birds to occupy these less arduous positions. If a goose becomes too tired or ill to continue, it is never left alone or abandoned. The bird will leave the flock, with the assistance of a healthier bird, and remain grounded until it can continue its flight. This social order greatly contributes to the survival and well-being of their flock. The “honking” of geese is believed to be the method of the strong encouraging the weaker birds to continue.
The attributes possessed by the sea gull are not characteristic of God’s way.
While I am not an authority on birds, the parallels drawn here do bring to light the logical consequences of working independently as opposed to working together toward a common goal. The seagull’s attributes are not characteristic of God’s way. Selfish, aggressive, proud and jealous behavior is not what we, as a Christian family, are to model at any time in our lives. Instead, we are instructed to work together, as a family, taking care of those who are weak.
Paul gives just such instruction in Romans:12:4-5, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (New International Version).
As high school graduates begin making their way out into the “real world,” and teens and preteens make their way to summer camps, maybe these are thoughts that can be taken along with you. Let your light shine to those around you by exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Nowhere among these fruits is there room for self-serving behavior.
Make the Golden Rule something you meditate on daily. Solidly put into practice Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interest of others” (NIV).
When the opportunity arises to spread our wings in the face of adversity (just as geese in a strong wind current), we can do so with grace and ease.
These reminders may sound simplistic, but because they typically go against our own human nature, they are sometimes very difficult to put into practice. If you can do it once, you should gain confidence that you can do it again and again. In the words of Dr. Phil McGraw, “behave your way to success.” Each time we are successful, it becomes easier to repeat the behavior and appreciate the spiritual and emotional rewards that ensue.
Life’s journey can, at times, seem very long and difficult. When we see someone wavering, possibly not believing in their own abilities, we should “honk” at them as the geese do, offering encouragement. When the opportunity arises to spread our wings in the face of adversity (just as geese in a strong wind current), we can do so with grace and ease. We should take our turn in assisting when the young, the weak or the old are no longer able to bear the most arduous tasks alone.
When we see someone who could use a break, we should offer our strength or possibly our shoulders, to carry their burden for a while. When someone in our flock is ill, weary or downtrodden, we should stay with them until their strength is restored. These are all elements that enable a flock of geese to remain strong and maintain social order. Practicing these fundamentals within our personal lives should prove likewise, improving our collective and individual relationships, as well as our general quality of life.