Last fall, while I was doing some yard work, my three-year-old son and his friend were playing nearby. They came over to show me something they had found in the dirt. “Look,” the friend explained to me, “we found a worm.”
“That’s a mighty fine-looking worm you’ve got there,” I said, or some such words intended to placate them, so that I could get back to my work.
“We have to protect him, so the birds don’t get him,” the friend said. He seemed righteously concerned for the fate of his worm.
“That’s a good idea,” I said, making movements with my yard tools to indicate that the time for talk had been superseded by the time for me to get back to my work without further interruption.
The boys took their worm carefully back to the place where they had been playing. I returned my attention to the work I’d been doing, giving no more thought to worms.
A few minutes later, I saw my son running around the yard, his cupped hands held high, calling out, “Birds! Here, birds! We have a worm for you!”
His friend was chasing him around, trying to convince my boy to quiet down and give the worm back to the protection of his own hands.
Maybe because he buys into all of our “sharing” propaganda, or maybe because the birds didn’t seem very enticed by a loud, young human offering them a treat, my son eventually gave the worm back. To my knowledge, nobody ate the worm, although you can never be sure with three-year-olds.
My first, society-tainted thought about this spectacle was that I had been blessed with a sociopath for a son. Where the other boy’s instinct was to nurture and protect, my son jumped right in to the hard facts of survival of the fittest and the rites of worm sacrifice.
I might have been slightly dismayed by this, except that I quickly figured out that this was not what I had witnessed at all. My boy is not a sociopath; he is a forward-thinking diplomat. He was presented with an opportunity to offer a gesture of friendship to either the worms or the birds. He measured the pros and cons of each carefully and made the informed decision that an alliance with the birds would likely be of more use to him if ever came the day when the animal kingdom were divided by strife.
On balance, I have to say I think he made a wise choice. Birds hold the potential to become dangerous adversaries. They can fly; they have sharp talons; they can peck your eyes out. Birds are loud and jumpy. They are not likely to have the patience to sit quietly through long peace negotiations.
Nobody really knows what worms can do. They appear to be no match for birds in single combat. They don’t have much of a record of pecking eyes out, and it is probably easier to mend fences with them than it is with birds, if it comes to that.
I have to agree with my son’s logic on this one. The world may see the other boy as a caring nurturer, but let’s see how far that gets him and his little worm friends when the skies are filled with angry birds.