How much do you value the life of a bird? How far would you go to save its life?
I had to ask myself this question when I found this little baby bird in in my front garden. It must have fallen out of its nest and I knew it was too small to survive by itself. I also knew that its mother would not take it back and felt a strong urge to help the little creature.
I called London Wildlife Protection to find out what to do. They explained that the bird was at risk of dying very quickly as it needed to be fed every 15 minutes. They asked me to bring it to one of their centres outside London so that they could take care of it. Well, I had a busy day scheduled ahead and cancelling my plans for the bird was out of question for me. I cared for the bird but the uncomfortable truth was that I did not care enough to change my plans for it. The woman at London Wildlife Protection tried to persuade me to bring the bird to their centre, but I kept insisting that I was unable to do so. In the end she managed to arrange for one of their volunteers to collect the bird. Another women who was prepared to travel from Pimlico (Central London) to my place in Clapham (South London) and then to someone in Ladbroke Grove (West London) who could take care of the bird.
After this arrangement was made, a sense of guilt overcame me for delegating the rescue to someone else. Yes, maybe this woman happened to have more time than me that afternoon, but it was more likely that she simply valued the life of the bird more than I did.
This thought made me feel like a selfish person. For a moment I beat myself up for not appreciating the life of the bird enough.
Then I remembered what I had learnt about values: A bird does not have an objective value. Its value is perceived by the observer and in this case the volunteer simply perceived a higher value than I did. In such situations it is neither kind on ourselves, nor resourceful, to beat ourselves up for not valuing something enough if we simply don’t. Our values are our values. If we feel bad about them, then it is because we feel that we should conform to somebody else’s values. Yet, why should we? I frequently use the example that many people give themselves a hard time for not going to the gym more often although the truth is that they just don’t value this activity enough. They feel that they should go to the gym because it is a value communicated to them by their outside world, maybe their friends or the media.
My situation with the bird was similar. In that moment I thought that a “good person” would have cancelled his appointments for the afternoon to save the bird, rather than making the volunteer take upon herself the inconvenience of travelling across London.
Yet, when I reflected and looked at the outcome, things had played out perfectly. By accepting my boundaries of what I was willing to do for the bird, I was true to my values. By delegating the next step in the rescue to the volunteer, I had created an opportunity for her to express what was important to her. It is very likely that she signed up for this rescue service because the wildlife in London was important to her, obviously much more than it was to me. When we put a high value on something, then we welcome the opportunity to pursue that thing. It gives us a sense of purpose and fulfilment. So my delegation had enabled the volunteer to pursue her very own chosen mission. Indeed, when I met her she did not give my the slightest impression that she was inconvenienced or that she judged me for not taking care of the situation herself. She seemed inspired and driven to deal with it.
This insight brought me back to a place of peace. A peace that we find when we accept our values and refrain from imposing the values of others on us.
So, where in your life do you beat yourself up for not doing something that, in fact, you simply do not value enough?