A lot of bird activity lately. We noticed two things when we got down to the boat this weekend. Lots of berry-colored “residue” all over the deck and blackbirds we occasionally have to shake off the top of the mast. Second, a mob of seagulls fighting over the pilings of the breakwater surrounding the marina. I like waking up to bird noises because it reminds me that I’m in my bed on the water, but this is ridiculous—the squawking and screaming of what sounds like hundreds of gulls, but really is just dozens of bickering birds. The unspoken rule seems to be “one bird per piling” although there’s plenty of room for two or three, and there are often empty pilings further along the sea wall. I’ll notice a lull—everyone seems happy for the time being—each bird preening or resting on his own piling. Then a new bird comes along, or one that decided to move to a new piling, and as he tries to alight, he sets the entire flock to squawking. The conversation, if I may be so bold as to translate from Gull-ese, would go something like this:
“No, you can’t land here, this piling is occupied.”
“No, not here either.”
“Hey, that’s no fair. Did you see that? He took my spot! Here, move over and let me share.”
“I don’t care what he did to you, you can’t share my piling!”
“Can’t have mine either”
“He took her piling! I can’t believe this. We should all move over and make more space.”
“You make some space; I’m staying here. This is my piling.”
On and on it continues, for about ten minutes. Then everyone gets settled again and there is peace for a few moments. Does this remind you of anyone you know? Sadly, I recognize that pattern from our own house, or boat, rather, with a few small changes: “He pinched me.” “She took my toy without asking.” “He broke something he didn’t build.” “She’s hogging the potty.” “He hit me.” I often ignore the petty bickering, allowing the children the opportunity to practice conflict resolution on their own, or, if it merits my attention, step in as arbitrator (I try not to play judge-and-jury). My husband mused recently that the boys would have fewer arguments if they didn’t share a room, something that would actually be dire punishment to them both.
Anyone who has had to downsize will recognize the temporary difficulties of diminished personal space. It feels for a little while as if you are on top of each other—arguments flare up, shared items are in constant demand by two or more parties, and no one can get away from the offending person or situation. And then everyone finds a little space of their own and things settle down for awhile. Really, the whole world is like that. Just as there may be plenty of space further down the sea wall and the birds bicker over a few more-desirable spots, the whole world seems to want the same piece of real estate—like Israel, for example. There’s plenty of room in Siberia, but nobody wants that piling. Why can’t we all just get along?
The answer is that we humans are hopelessly selfish, squabbling and grasping endlessly for our own wants and needs—we come out of the womb saying “Mine!” (If you don’t believe me, you must not have ever lived with a newborn.) And the solution to the problem? There is only one cure for selfishness. It is an accursed and nearly-impossible feat, akin to suicide: slay the self. I am no proponent of drinking the tainted Kool-Aid, mind you, merely of placing my needs in their proper place, under the authority of the Creator-God and His law of love. Ironically, when one gives himself entirely to God (not merely to a set of religious beliefs or rules), He re-establishes that self in its true form, as it was created to be. I am never more myself than when I have denied myself for another’s sake. I am then the nobler, truer, braver, freer self—not because of self-love, but because I love another enough to consider his needs first.
A loving family is the perfect place to learn this. Though it would temporarily solve the problem. we are not going to send everyone to their own Siberia to have peace and quiet. We are instead going to do the opposite and force people to work their problems out and stick together until they find fellowship. (I once chained my two oldest boys together and made them stay that way all day. Their crying turned to laughing by lunch time, when they simply had to cooperate to get any eating accomplished. I have no idea how they managed the bathroom.) I can’t say that I know the secret to living well in close quarters, as we are still struggling quite a bit with our selfish natures. But, somehow in the confined space in which we find ourselves, better, truer and nobler people are being forged. Whatever solution you may come up with on your own, the problem of selfishness results in nothing short of war, whether it be fighting over pilings, toys, or property. When put into a cramped space where we don’t get what we think we deserve, humans are no better than bickering birds.