16 January 2018

Bird’s eye views and bird-droppings

If a little boy was asked to write an essay with a heading such as ‘If I were a bird’ what would he write?  Depends on the boy, his experiences, his hopes and his notions of magic, I suppose.  Depending on the age he would fly to don’t-go places or to faraways parents do not or cannot take him.  He could watch a cricket match without having to purchase a ticket or he could just watch the world go by.  

Now if one were to ask a bird and the bird was able to communicate, we might get a different story.  Depending on the bird we probably would get many stories, in fact.  We would find out what bird-life is all about.  And we might understand that canopy-world or tree-to-tree-world is not just different to ground-world but is nothing like anything we could ever imagine.  

A boy writing an essay doesn’t have to worry about such things.  It’s just nice to imagine you have wings.  Flight is a beautiful thing to dream about.  And therefore when you are asked what you would do if you had wings it’s easy to flap the wings of your imagination and visit splendid places and witness the unimaginable.

It’s different with adults.   They know they don’t have wings.  Sure, they also have the ability to imagine.  They also soar, literally and metaphorically.  But then again, there are those who don’t necessarily fly but are convinced they have a bird’s eye view of everything.  

These are the know-alls.  If that was all, it is still alright.  The problem with the bird’s eye view is that from up there you tend to look down, literally and metaphorically, again.  And there’s many ways to look down, just as there are many ways to look up.

When we look up, say from a hilltop on a cloudless night, we get a sense of the universe’s enormity.  And if we have some notion of maps, in particular the size of the island in a world map, then we obtain a sense of proportions.  How big the universe, how large the world, how we cannot hold in our arms our island and in relation to these ‘big things’ which are really very small compared to the universe, we understand how infinitely tiny we really are.  That’s when we encounter humility.  

It’s different when we look down, not from cloud and tree-top but from a place we believe we have flown up to, way above the multitude, so high that all people and all things look like dots or smaller.  This is where we get tested.  This is where we forget that if we can ‘fly’ so too can others, in their own way, using the wings they have.  We can all of a sudden feel we are above it all, way higher than anyone else can even imagine.  That’s where we encounter arrogance.

From that point, we see flaw.  We think ‘he or she is small’ and we equate perceived smallness to things like weakness, inability, ignorance and stupidity.  We forget, consequently, that however high we fly, we still know very little about the world, the universe and indeed ourselves.  

We are not arahats.  We are no saints.  We are not all-knowing and all-seeing.  The ‘loser’ or ‘bum’ that we in our arrogance so define could very well have an equal or better understanding of the human condition, although he or she may be less educated, less affluent or held less in regard.  Flight has a way of blinding simply because of the fallacy of ‘better sight’.    

And when you are ‘right up there’ or believe that’s where you are, you think it is your right to look down, to ridicule, to be condescending.  We could call it bird-droppings.  Nothing smart about it.  Nothing all-knowing about it.  Just some smelly stuff.  Waste, they call it.

[Published in the Daily News, January 16, 2018]