Humanizing the Other

A truly lovely morning. We slept late and have been slow to get moving. Last evening there were storms about, some severe, but we missed out on the rain; the past few days have trended much drier and the gardens could use a soaking, so we’ll likely need to water.

The robins are growing rapidly and should fledge very soon; even after leaving the nest they will need their parents to feed them for another couple of weeks. The parents are looking somewhat diminished from the near constant feeding; we’ve noticed they take some much-needed time off in the evening, leaving the young alone for maybe twenty minutes at a time. The cats have backed off following a couple of soakings; we’ll see what happens when the chicks fledge.

We’ve been experimenting with capturing the feeding activity on video. The porch is on the north side of the house, so the light quality is highly variable, as are the results of our efforts. The birds seem to tolerate our brief presences, and that of the video camera, well, although we do try to be as unobtrusive as possible. This morning I stuck my head out to see what was occurring on the nest and whichever parent was feeding at the time, greeted me with a melodic chirp!

I’ve spent much of the week, when at home, engaged with the robin family, an opportunity for which I am most grateful. Jennie came home last evening after a week away, and it was great fun to see her swept up in watching the interactions between the chicks and parents. The chicks have grown enormously in one week and are now far more vocal and agile than when Jennie left!

I’ve been thinking about instinct and skill. When I was in college behaviorism was at the height of its influence and animals were understood to be driven entirely by instinct. Now it is clear that while instinct is important, most animals, including birds, are more conscious and thoughtful than once believed. It has also become clear that some bird parents are more engaged and skillful than others. The world is more complex than we can know!

A colleague was musing the other day about the differences between animistic cultures and Western culture, especially in regards to how the earth and her denizens are understood. The world is a very different place when one perceives other beings to be conscious and engaged than when they are viewed as automatons! (This applies to our perceptions of other people as well. We treat others with more kindness when we understand them to be vulnerable, conscious, and seeking to live good lives in an often difficult world.  Of course such a view requires us to acknowledge suffering and grieve with others.  Perhaps that is why politicians and their ilk do their best to “dehumanize” others, both animal and human; greed and compassion are truly incompatible.

I believe that in our world where temperatures and ocean levels are rapidly rising, along with our human population, empathy and compassion for all beings are greatly needed if we are to successfully navigate the collective challenges we face. We also need grounded hope, and leaders who encourage kindness and vision rather than hatred and greed.

6 thoughts on “Humanizing the Other

  1. You are right Michael. This time more than any other we need an alternative vision-an ancient vision, of our responsibility towards each other, towards the world and all of the creatures in it. It is easy to despair and think the game lost when we see what’s going on, though it seems it is all of the negative things that are highlighted in the media, but I think it’s down to us all to try and bring balance. I hope I’m not just an idealist about this, but at least informs how I live my life.

    1. Andy, I guess what really maters is how we live our lives and our values. One can go crazy trying to put out all the fires. Caring, being creative, and living joy are crucial now.

  2. I completely agree that engaging with the world and all its creatures on that level of compassion and empathy gives us a different attitude that makes it much more likely that we’ll do the right thing.

  3. Would it be OK if I cross-posted this article to There is no fee; I’m simply tryting to add more content diversity for our community and I enjoyed reading your work. I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the author. If “OK” please let me know via email.


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