I purchased the DVD documentary, Winged Migration, released in 2001, because the jacket stated it had been nominated for an Academy Award as "Best Documentary" in 2002. I was unprepared for what I saw. This film documents many species of birds migrating through 40 countries, over seven continents. The filming, up close to these wondrous animals as they flew through the air over many terrains and bodies of water, was breathtaking. Throughout the film, I kept asking myself, "How did these people achieve such a feat?"
The answer was found in the additional features. The director and crew, all French, had raised up many species of birds from chicks and, following the work of Konrad Lorenz and Nicolass Tinbergen on geese and imprinting, this visionary group created a biological bond--an attachment--between their birds and themselves. These patient Frenchmen gradually trained their birds not to fear the various flying machines, and to fly alongside them. They then would take their animal friends all over the world to film them most intimately in flight and on the ground. I highly recommend both the film and the added features.
I decided to write this blog because this wonderful documentary contains ethical lessons of great value for Americans in our current situation, which is embedded with so many kinds of uncertainties and fears.
The Natural Order Can Teach Us
There are so many new electronic gadgets for sale every year by every manufacturing firm. Each promises some new convenience, some intriguing features, that promise to make life easier, faster, better. And so the American and global marketplace generate more billions in profits as citizens around the world purchase these devices for status, and the hope of a more "connected" life in our societies. But every year, new devices appear, the cycle starts over, and more purchases are made of the latest offerings.
The visionary, caring, sensitive Frenchmen and Frenchwomen who created Winged Migration (Fr., Le Peuple Migrateur) did not know completely what they were in for when they began their project. Yet what they learned along the way shows us, if we will consider and learn, that Nature has thousands and thousands of gentle reminders that life is filled with wonder, symmetry, cooperation, interdependency, and even love.
One of the great problems in our society, and in others like ours where technology's presence is so strong, is that people do not establish and develop biological attachments to each other. From the time children are born, their little lives are filled with noise, lights, movement, and all too little time being just held, fed, and hearing their parents' loving voices. Many are quickly shuttled off to infant daycare, or soon, to preschool care. Millions of children in American and other "highly developed" nations never get the chance to bond, to imprint deeply with their parents, as they are passed from hand to hand from their earliest years. For this reason, many children grow up having had thousands of "interesting and privileged" experiences, yet more than we suspect have neural networks deprived of the deepest needs for love, trust, peace, and natural growth into emotionally healthy persons.
In the film, the 450 human beings involved in this project exercised the greatest gentleness, patience, respect, respect, and care for their "stars," the birds. They fed, talked to, caressed, carried, and showed genuine love for their charges. At one point, some geese joined wild members of their species and began to fly away. The movie crew wondered if their friends would listen to the call of the wild. They did not. The trained geese fly for a while, then turned and returned to those with whom they had imprinted through a thousand days and nights of tender human love. While in Vietnam during a delay, the humans slept with their birds to comfort and protect them.
Betrayal and Trust in America
We live in a time of broad and deep betrayals. Manufacturing companies have sought higher profits by shipping jobs overseas, regardless of the traumatic financial and emotional effects on fellow citizens left behind. Banks and financial institutions have engaged in high-risk speculation, and manipulation, by gambling with the pensions and retirements of millions of "anonymous" strangers, not people to them, only account numbers. Government leaders for decades have promised their friends and constituents whatever they wanted, in order to remain in power and accumulate vast wealth. Now Americans everywhere suffer from thousands and thousands of decisions based on self-interest, not any concern for other human beings affected or destroyed by them.
It is my opinion--not as a professional biologist, or a self-appointed expert on imprinting or the psychiatric effects of attachment disorders--that our many betrayals in America are due to some extent because of how our society and culture have developed. From a biological point of view, may we say, "how our society and culture have degenerated"? For is it progress when our parents, generations of them, have conceived and birthed millions of little people only to deny them the essentials of daily and nightly gentle care, feeding, nurture, quiet words of loving comfort, environmental stability, the conditions required to become healthy, caring, well-adjusted, normal people?
From the cans and bottles of artificial "milk," to Mozart CDs played for infants, to wind-up distractions hung up over cribs to "keep baby occupied," to the millions of homes where babies are allowed to cry themselves to sleep amid the wild noises of some domiciles, the most essential things taught by Nature are too often neglected. And when little babies grow up into small children and adolescents, some parents take their children to pediatricians and child psychologists asking, "Why is my child manifesting these strange behaviors?" Then they leave, prescription in hand for Ritalin or some other psychoactive drug, and expect that psycho-pharmacology will correct what they themselves have created, good parents they imagine themselves to be.
Yet it is my firm belief that all the decades of our cultural affluence, which has generated goods and services to capture whatever excess money people have had to spend beyond their necessities for life, have purchased the biological betrayals of millions of innocent children. It is in our nature to love and be loved, to grow up surrounded by true meaning: those who gave us life love us more than life itself. We have a deep need to be attached to our parents and siblings, and we want to reciprocate love to them, which we know is part of our role in the natural order of things. Our materialistic society has purchased the illusion, which is a delusion against our biological nature itself, that the generation of money and the purchase of things are a principal end of life itself, what we call the American Dream of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
We have betrayed ourselves when we have betrayed our biological nature. So today, when we look at the millions of betrayals scattered across our land, so many look around and wonder, "What has happened to us? Why are we doing to each other what we do?" The fundamental needs to love and be loved, to be able to trust our closest biological kin more completely and know we are valued most highly and cherished by them, have been betrayed from these innumerable social and cultural habits, which themselves can do nothing to engender, protect, or nurture deep psychological trust and the capacity to love.
What Must We Do?
Some might say, Nothing can be done at this time. We are bound in the matrix of our materialistic habits and must only endure what we have created against our nature and ourselves. I say, NO.
The millions of Americans who have been stripped of what they have become accustomed to can learn from Nature again. Only insane people, that is, abnormal and unhealthy-minded people, would deny they want to be loved and want to be able to love. When the means for affluence, for "American normalcy" are stripped away--jobs, insurances, retirements, homes, and the fundamental belief that we can trust others to act in our interests--we can turn again to Nature itself.
Let us, as we used to see in some of the old Western movies, "circle the wagons" within our families. Parents, begin loving each other, loving your children, loving your grandchildren, loving your neighbor, loving the stranger, who also is just like you in his or her deepest needs. Look at your kin, look at the people you meet, and see people who need to be loved. And as you begin to love, be assured that your love offered will be returned back to you. No, it will not always be returned quickly. Why?
The Culture of Betrayal has seeped into the psyches of your kin and neighbors. Many who experience love ask themselves, consciously or unconsciously, "WHY is this person doing this? WHEN will this be withdrawn?" But do not be angered by the first question. Do not withdraw love, though rebuffed or doused with skepticism. Give love. Give love. Give love. Human nature responds to love, even what that nature has been deformed temporarily by other habits. Love will be returned to you, and sometimes immediately, within the very minute and hour you offer it.
There also is another biological transformation that occurs in the giving of love. We begin to change. We begin to feel the joy and satisfaction of being true to ourselves. We begin to have more love returned to our own lives, and then we feed upon that. A cycle of growth begins as we begin to love. We begin to feel ourselves becoming healthier, happier. We begin to see our lives take on new meaning and joy, as we become living vessels of love pouring out life-giving love on the parched ground we call our kin, friends, neighbors, and strangers. We begin to become human.
The sweet symbiosis between the French creators of this film and their bird-stars are a reminder of what can happen within the span of three years between people and animals not known for a very high intelligence, though gifted instincts. If three years can produce such a tender and true cooperation and trust between such diverse species, imagine what only three years can and must do in your own life, if you only will refuse the patterns of the past, and embrace the present and future of the love calling deep within you to be nurtured and expressed?
The birds nearly were swept away by their wild kin, and for a time flew on, forgetting their human family looking on below. There are now strong winds blowing across our nation. We are surrounded by wild kin, and we may be tempted to fly with them, people who never knew us, who never loved us, and who are urging that we follow them. But your true course lies within you, in the genetic compass to love and be loved. Fly not according to the times, but remember your inner call--and return to love those who need you most.