Small World: What birds can teach

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

One of the classics of Persian literature (How’s that for an opener?) is “The Conference of the Birds” by the 12th Century poet Farid Ud-Din Attar. Adapted for the 21st Century by Peter Sis with wonderful illustrations, you might think it was for children. But, it seems too rich for the young; more suitable, I believe, for those of us in the second childhood.

The plot has to do with the deep unhappiness among the world’s birds — anarchy, upheaval, fights over territory, water and food. They get together and the self-appointed leader, a hoopoe bird (ask Jean Preis) acts as their guide. His idea is for them to search out a king who, he has heard, has all the answers. Turns out that the king — Simorgh is his name — lives at some distance which must be reached by traversing oceans, deserts, mountain ranges and seven metaphorical valleys — Love, Detachment, Unity, Death, etc. (You get the idea) — each with its particular challenges.

Please forgive me, but I propose to update even further this tale. Let’s assume that the birds, having returned from their annual migration, get together and, relating their woes of the past season, decide that there is one overriding affliction that weighs on their societies: Income and wealth inequality. They take off to find Simorgh who will solve this problem for them.

The first rest stop is the Valley of Innovation. There the humming bird is the first to speak up: “Look, I alone can fly like a helicopter or an F-16. What do I earn? A few drops of sweet water! The rich wallow in sweets. Not fair!”

Then another voice: “I hammer away at rotting wood, get a meal and build my nest. What do I get: Just a headache!” lamented the woodpecker. “Simorgh will take care of our needs.”

The next rest stop comes at the Valley of Good Works. “New techniques aren’t as important as helping society,” many birds chant. “We clean up the roads,” complain the buzzards and crows, “and earn a bit of stinking meat while risking our lives from speeding cars.”

“We eat thousands of insects while working at night,” grouch chimney swifts and bats (I know, I know). We earn nothing more than what we catch — while we keep everyone fairly comfortable. Simorgh will help us.”

Finally, they reach the Valley of One Percent and are greeted by a huge rooster. “I’m not really one of them, the rich,” he says, “but I have beautiful feathers, make a lot of noise, wake people up and boss a bunch of hens. So, I have special influence and I’m accepted, if not an insider.”

A parrot steps forward, “I’m not one of them either, but I learn my spiel from the Wall Street Journal and endlessly repeat words I don’t understand. The one percenters love me.”

Then struts by a peacock. “I can’t be modest. I’m obviously a one percenter. Look at my colors, just look at my feathers. Without a doubt, I am richer than the rest of the common flock. I deserve it thanks to ma and pa, even if I didn’t work for it. I don’t worry about Simorgh.”

With the 99% still grouching, the flock takes off. They get lost. The hoopoe asks a smart-enough-looking owl, “Excuse the interruption of your nap, but where do we find Simorgh?”

“Over the next mountain you’ll find a crystal lake. Look there,” he hoots.

Sure enough they fly over the peak and out over the lake. “So beautiful, such a wonderful reflection.” shouts the hoopoe. “Look down, look down!”

The birds, somewhat confused, comply. What they see is themselves reflected. “That means we are the Simorgh, each of us — all of us — is the king. We have the power to decide our own fate.” “Only we can do it,” chirps a chickadee. “We are responsible for ourselves and to each other.”

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

 

 

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