Why a Bird has two Wings

The phrase (“Wisdom and Compassion are like the two wings of a bird”) expresses an important message for our fragmented times. This Buddhist saying articulates the insight that the reactive mind and the steady heart must learn to collaborate in the conduct of our lives. Lacking either–the insights of wisdom or the spontaneous declarations of the heart–we are flightless birds: pacing back and forth in the corner of our cage or demoralized by the suffering of the realm in which we find ourselves.

In the past few weeks, the Democratic Party has forced two of its most progressive legislators from its ranks and raised questions about the relationship between personal flaws and a person’s life work.

As a man, I’m not able to speak for the impact of centuries of gender inequalities in our society, nor what it must feel like for the first handful of women to assume leadership roles in legislative and corporate bodies. But it appears that this recently acquired clout (both of women themselves and the influence they exert on men to redress past wrong-doing) has contributed to a decision with unexpected side-effects. A stark contrast distinguishes one party, in which it remains safe to treat women as lesser members of the human family, and another party which is forcing the resignation of some of its members because of their behavior. Many of us may be wondering if a flightless bird with a pang of conscience is preferable to circling carrion feeders who feel neither compunction nor shame for their behavior.

The loss of two progressive senators (Al Franken and John Conyers) does not begin to redress the unbalance between women and men in the organizations through which our society governs itself. And there’s a sense that tolerance among individuals who are working together to bring more humanity into public life has been displaced by a need to respond to news reports of past mistakes. In the midst of this redress of past failings, something important is being brought into the light and something else is being shoved under the carpet.

I wonder if in the weeks ahead, if not already, women in Congress will regret turning on two of their natural allies and, without any hearings, sending them out into the cold without a coat or a thermos of coffee. In a world in which the egregious flaws of individuals have often been learned from the culture itself, perhaps the ability to feel remorse should be placed in the plus column. Taking responsibility for past behavior can initiate reform but only if, like yeast in bread, some dialogue is added.

It’s natural that the party, which brought us Social Security and health care for those who can’t afford it, should take the lead in house cleaning its own chambers, but a question arises: could this be a time when women in the corridors of power might show us that another way is possible? It feels as if the very people who represent our best hope for being guided by a more balanced and heart-centered perspective—the passionate women who have earned their place in a man’s world—now have an opportunity to show appreciation for the colleagues who have dedicated themselves to the common good.

Then it occurred to me that my own mind is sometimes swamped with feelings of frustration and resentment, and so I also do not exemplify the kind of balance that it is so easy to expect from others. A few mornings ago I fell into a fantasy in which I imagined myself having been cut out of the community that gave me the Time, Space, Knowledge vision.

If I find it so easy to forget my own indebtedness to a teaching that came into my life when I most needed it, what must it be like to be in the US Senate these days? If I can be swept up by baseless resentment for some fictitious slight, what must it be like to be swimming in the deep pools of disharmony that are so painfully present in today’s polarized political system? What must it be like to experience the sweeping alienation from truth and kindness that must assail anyone who is trying to do the right thing in today’s federal legislature?

It’s as if a need to blame someone else for global problems has become the currency of our world–hovering and circling above us– ready to sweep down on anyone who stumbles and falls behind the galloping herd.

Accidental emotions get caught up in whatever irritant of the moment starts them flowing; and so much in our world seems available for the loudest voice to command.

How strange to be living in a society where kindness and expediency rarely arise together in the same person or in response to the same situation.

3 comments to “Why a Bird has two Wings”
  1. Michael, Have you noticed that you use a very effective, warm and generous technique to enroll your readers in your line of thought? Has it ever been pointed out that at critical points in your discussion, you ask questions rather than use declarative pronouncements? Do you do so as a conscious choice? Or is it a natural skill, born of good instincts? Whatever the source, it works.

    By the way, the bird’s wing image pops up in Irish traditional music, too. An Irish piper was asked why he always combined two tunes into a medley when he played. He replied, “A bird never flew on one wing.”


  2. Kip, if I could develop your skill at bringing to the surface what someone (in this case me) is hoping to achieve and presenting it in a positive light, I would be happy to abandon all other techniques. As for asking questions instead of making declarative pronouncements, I regularily find myself–in the first couple of drafts of a blog–pontificating as if my perspective is the only legitimate one; then questions naturally start arising as I search for a balance that I didn’t initially feel.

    I love the image of a bird to describe how two tunes lift off together in a tradional Irish melody.


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