• Dr. Vin

Bird Watch


I watch a thin bird with long legs dip his narrow beak into the sand, after the ocean wave recedes. I ask my husband, “Is that a Willet or a Curlew?”

He lifts his binoculars to his eyes and says, “Neither, it is a Marbled Godwit.”

We walk. He stops me, “See that bird. It is a Whimbrel.” He can tell these lookalike shorebirds apart by the shape of their beaks.

As we walk further down the sparsely peopled beach, I face the ocean, and lower my mask to inhale the salty air as the sun warms my bare arms. I notice an older man boogie boarding in gentle waves and see a younger man in a black wetsuit catch a tall wave and ride it all the way to shore. A pregnant blond mother in an red swimsuit stands on the shore keeping her eyes fixed on her toddler, who flirts with an incoming wave. The child laughs as the cool water climbs toward her knees, then she runs back to her Mom.

I am struck by how birds with beaks that curl up and birds with beaks that curl down, and birds with short straight beaks cooperate as they hunt for clams and worms on the sand, as soon as a wave recedes.

I am struck that people of all ages enjoy different activities at the same generous beach.

This morning I read a piece by Ibram X. Kendi * about persecution. He writes, “The historic defense of violent American bigotry is a projection of persecution rooted in a violent denial of reality.” I found this a very provocative idea that made me think. The important point is that a perception of persecution is necessary to create dehumanizing treatment.

Here are some of Kendi’s examples:

“Slaveholders imagined they were being persecuted by immoral and illegal abolitionists. Ku Klux Klansman imagined White people were being persecuted by tyrannical Black politicians, voters, and landowners. Jim Crow segregationists imagined they were being persecuted by outside agitators. After the 1960’s ,“non-racist” Americans imagined they were being persecuted by affirmative action, welfare fraud, voter fraud, and super-predators. Today, the red hats imagine they are being persecuted by divisive anarchists, critical race theorists, and anti-racists of all races.”

This made me think about the Holocaust. Before the Germans exterminated 6 million Jews, they had lost a war and felt inferior, as reparations were not forthcoming to help them rebuild. So they blamed the Jews. They projected that they were being persecuted by rich Jewish businessman and politicians. The (perceived) persecution turned them into monsters who dehumanized and destroyed their perceived enemy.

This way of seeing the world goes back to the beginning of man. When you are bonded to a group, your sense of survival and safety is wrapped up in that world. Imagine that a rustling sound disturbs your camp as all are sleeping. You are the lookout. Your mind automatically will signal danger by hitting an alarm button in your brain. You scout out the origin of the noise by stepping slowly - with eyes and ears alert. You brace yourself, ready to fight, as you put your hand on the hilt of your knife. You must to be able to perceive that the noise belongs to an enemy combatant, come to rob or maim. A small deer appears in the distance and runs off as he sees you. You exhale and return to camp.

The mind’s ability to see bad (bad people are out to persecute me) is a normal, automatic brain process. After boogie boarding at the beach, I dried off and looked for my watch in my beach bag. I could not find it in any pocket. I looked in the sand, I shook out my towel. As minutes went by and I got more stressed, my brain began to think, “Someone stole my watch.” I looked around the beach for a perceived enemy, squinting my eyes. We left. At home, I dipped my hand one more time into each pocket of my beach bag and there was my gold watch. I had projected being robbed (persecuted) onto some (perceived) thief. Once I got my watch back, my perception of the beach shifted back to one where birds of all shaped beaks and people of all ages could co-exist and share the bounties of the ocean.

This is why we must be alert to fear-mongering, as it increases the brain’s natural defense to see others as persecuting us, of robbing us, as an enemy to subdue. This is why our political climate in the USA is as fragile and dangerous as the heating weather systems of the globe, because we are increasingly being encouraged to join a mob with no tolerance for the other.

It is only when we open our hearts and soften our grip on that knife that we can see that the deer was just looking to share a cool drink of water in that babbling brook, the brook that has enough for all of us.

*From Ibram X. Kendi’s book: #stampedfromthebeginning @madiereadsbooks

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