We all know this popular turn of phrase. It seems to come so naturally. Is there anything freer than a bird? How amazing must it be not to have these challenges, obligations, emotions? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just spread our wings and fly away, our earthly tethers removed?
Here is the thing though: It’s a lie. Okay, that was harsh; let’s call it a misconception. Birds can fly, yes, but being able to fly does nothing to save them from a life dictated by their basic needs – finding food, evading predators, and procreating.
What we see as happy-go-lucky, lighthearted buzzing is really the bird’s way of playing the cold, hard and unforgiving game of survival, every day. Their wings may have made them better at playing that game, but they did nothing to help them escape it. In this sense, birds are the same as every other animal on earth (maybe except for cats).
But the reason why I’m going on about this is not that I take pleasure in destroying the romantic notions of other people. Or at least, not entirely for that reason. What I want to point out is that all the qualities that we ascribe to birds really only exist in one animal on earth: Us.
We humans are the only species so far that has found ways to escape the daily grind of finding food, evading predators, and procreating. Because as it turns out, being “free as a bird” doesn’t require wings. It requires awareness. Awareness of life, the world, and our place in it. Awareness of what we really want and need. With this awareness, we can make choices that are not dictated by our basic instincts – or at least to a lesser extent.
This is especially true for those everyday challenges, obligations, and emotions. The fact that we are aware of them is exactly what gives us a choice and empowers us to make a change.
That doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. Humans can change the rules of the game of life. Some of us do. Many of us, for a myriad of reasons, don’t. Others simply can’t, because while having our basic needs met is probably not strictly required to create such awareness, it certainly helps.
Collectively, though, we certainly have both the theoretical capacity, as well as the actual capability to be free. Whether or not we take action is a different story. But I think the moral of the story is that we shouldn’t look at birds and wish we could be free like them. Instead, maybe we should look at birds and wonder what being free actually means. And how we can use our power to achieve true freedom for ourselves.