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On Bullies and Birds and Are You Happy?

14/07/2014 13:33 BST | Updated 12/09/2014 10:59 BST

On bullies and birds

It occurred to me as I watched the might magpie swat the tiny blue tit off the birdfeeder this morning that bullying can be a good thing. Bullies teach lesser mortals how to be resourceful and to discover their own ingenuity and to sharpen their intelligence. 'What load of codswallop!', I hear you say. Well, no actually. The problems in British society are getting worse, not better. Every day we see articles of children driven to despair by bullies, some sadly have even taken their own lives. But consider this: if all of us were equal in terms of having the same ideas about the same things, the world would be as flat as a pancake and none of us would ever learn anything. Neither would we develop the mettle of living through challenges, surviving them and understanding how adversity can even be necessary sometimes.

I was never bullied at school, probably because in my day (60s/70s) parents had a much tighter rein on their kids. We were brought up to behave a certain way not go about tormenting others. But I can only sympathise with kids today whose lives are made a misery. How do you tell a child or teenager that when others treat us badly it says more about them than us? You would think the blue tit has learned to avoid the magpie. Not so! He races over to the bird feeder aware that the magpie is in hot pursuit and will no doubt send him flying. The blue tit takes his chances and shows himself to be courageous by trying his luck anyway with the evil-looking magpie. Of course the magpie gets his own way but every day he knows that the blue tit will run rings around him too.

All the misery we feel as human beings is in our heads. Someone who cannot overcome the darkness that has become his life recently approached me. I am not a guru- in fact, my own voyage has been the most painful and heart-wrenching, yet all I can say, like the blue tit, is persevere even in the face of adversity. Carry on. Insist on taking your place in the world and hold your head up high. Emulate the feisty blue tit, which is tiny slip of a thing and has learned to survive despite his size.

Two things stand out and have served me well in my life. I owe one to Albert Einstein who famously remarked: "Everything is relative." I have 50 years of experience that have clearly demonstrated time and time again that Einstein was right. Pain and suffering are relative. As is happiness. As is almost everything else you could possible think of.

The second thing that has served me over the years is this: no one is better or worse than us. There is always someone in this life who is going through something worse than us. And the inverse is true as well. If we put this relative aspect of all things into perspective we see that what we worry about is pointless.

The magpie and blue tit squawk at each other but end up having to share the coveted food in the birdfeeder. But then there is however another category of opportunist- the starling who arrives in a murmuration with all his mates and who proceed to strip the place bare. However the starling is only powerful because he gets a whole gang to team up with him. When the starlings arrive, even the magpie heads for the hills. Sometimes there are battles best avoided (and philosophy can't provide all the right answers all of the time because everything is relative, remember?).

Funny that how birds can teach us about ourselves.

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Photo copyright S. van Dalen

Man in the mirror

I once lived in one of the most affluent parts of Britain where the concentration of millionaires was the highest in the whole country. I used to commute on the early morning train and back again each evening to and from a harassed career in London. I got to know my fellow commuters quite well as we chatted away to pass the time while sitting next to each other (when we were lucky enough to get a seat). I'd hear about about the marriage, how they met, the children, the career, the children's lives, the grandchildren. I'd look at my fellow commuter and ask the question: "Are you happy?" A blank stare would follow, then the eyes would be averted and suddenly a downcast face would look back at me. One simple question formed of three words. Is opening a door to the inner life so awful to contemplate? How interesting, I always think to myself, that we delude ourselves most of the time about most things. I'd wager that if more of us asked the question and dealt with the consequences there would be fewer of us suffering with ill health and succumbing to disease. Mind and body are one after all. Just a thought.

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Photo copyright S. van Dalen