Two huge Cooper’s Hawks race across the morning sky. In hot pursuit of those birds of prey, darting and buzzing ferociously, relentlessly – is a hummingbird. Yes, a hummingbird.
The message is clear: “Get away from my home, my nest, my babies.”
The image stuck with me the whole rest of the morning, and through the rest of the week. Tiny hummingbird, defying any modicum of reason, chasing after those two hooligans.
Life or death does that to us – pushes common sense out the window, replacing it with 100% full throttle, adrenaline filled “NOT ON MY WATCH!”
I was reminded of a conversation I have frequently with community leaders, the most recent of which was with a colleague and friend. She had brought us in to talk about governance with an animal welfare coalition. The group had quickly devolved into ugly arguments over whether or not all their activities should support the No-Kill Movement.
Our colleague took me aside to apologize. I told her, “This level of dispute is not uncommon with animal rights groups. It’s because the issue is about life and death.”
Consider the issues that have for years moved from civil conversation to screaming argument. PETA and animal rights. Anti-abortion demonstrators. Human rights activists protesting the torture of prisoners of war or the conditions of slave laborers half a world away.
Each of these cases is a matter of life or death. But also in each of these cases, the life in question is not the life of the protestor him/herself. The vehemence that often causes supporters of these issues to act directly counter to the message of compassion they espouse – it is related to an overwhelming need to protect others.
Which brings me back to the fierceness with which Mama Hummingbird chased those two hawks across the sky. She wasn’t defending herself – on the contrary, she was putting herself directly into harm’s way. She was defending those about whom she cared passionately. In doing so, she didn’t take even a moment to reflect about whether or not her actions might cause her personal pain (and she certainly didn’t take time to wonder how those actions would make her look on the 6:00 news!).
In the instant of witnessing Mama Hummingbird in action, I came a step closer to compassion to my fellow humans who care so passionately and deeply.
I realized in that moment that their actions come from the honorable instinct to protect others. I don’t have to agree with their positions or condone their approaches to begin to understand the place of pain and passion that leads to those protective actions.
To those who do not share their cause, we see extremism; to those inside that cause, they are feeling the burden of protecting another life. What we see on the outside is only their behaviors. What they feel on the inside is pure experience of pain and suffering on behalf of others.
Regardless of the issue, before we can find common ground, we must be able to communicate. Before we can communicate, we must respect the other party. And before we can respect them, we must understand them.
Last week, a 3″ hummingbird brought me a step closer to that understanding. For that I am overwhelmingly grateful.