Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Sparrow and the Hawk

A couple of days ago Maggie and I were out walking and we encountered two hawks. The two of us must have spent an hour watching them dive, swoop, and otherwise go about their hawk-like business. What really captured my interest (a mixture of curiosity, horror, and awe) was when the hawk settled in high up on a telephone pole. 

First I noticed the chatter of other birds. Then I saw a sparrow. One lone sparrow came swooping in on the hawk, fluttering around, then flying away. This process repeated over and over for twenty minutes. Sometimes the bird would flutter in the air. Sometimes the bird would get so close I was fairly sure it was pecking the hawk. 

For the most part the hawk stood still. Finally the hawk caught a gust of rising warm air and soared away, high up into the air.

It got me thinking about a quote that I've posted on Facebook and tweeted about in recent weeks. When the Temple Grandin bio-pic first came out I stopped it at a particular point to write down a quote. At various times I've tweeted that quote and posted it on facebook. I got to thinking about this quote while I was watching the sparrow and the hawk
Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be. -- Temple Grandin
I like this quote. I like it because it serves as a reminder that we have choices about our actions. Watching the sparrow and hawk I realized Temple got this a little wrong (assuming it was Temple who said this and not a script writer).

We often imbue nature with person-like qualities. Nature as mother, for example--or nature as cruel sadist, as another example. Nature however isn't a person--it just is. Neither the sparrow or the hawk were engaged in the very human activity of cruelty. Neither were seeking to harm the other for pleasure, or engaged in behavior devoid of humane emotions. The hawk and sparrow were doing what hawks and sparrows do: the hawk was looking for food, the sparrow was trying to keep the flock from being food. I have no evidence to suggest that either animal has the capacity to make another choice.

We humans--well that's a different story. That's the part Temple got right. By the nature of our cognitive abilities we have been afforded a certain amount of choices. We can choose to be cruel. We can choose not to be. The choices we humans have available to us are seemingly endless. 

This choice can lead to such freedom. History is replete with examples of how easy it is for us to make choices that lead away from freedom.

What kind of choices are you making today?

1 comment:

  1. If we as humans have the choice to be cruel or not to be cruel, then why are so many of us choosing to be cruel? What do we gain out of being cruel?
    And why are so many people turning to cruelty as a daily practice??