Thursday, February 01, 2007

What kind of bird is this?

It's nice to be out in the great outdoors, isn't it, boys and girls? What that you say? It's cold? Nonsense! What kind of bird is this, boys and girls?

Spotty, that's easy! It's a common loon!

Ah, grasshopper, you are half right. It's a common scold. The Latin name is communis rixatrix. This one is an excellent specimen. The easiest way to identify the common scold it by her cry. Actually she has several; we'll just focus today on a few of the most important ones.

Right now, she is making one of her more strident vocalizations: hellinnahandbasket hellinnahandbasket hellinnahandbasket. This piercing call can be made continuously for hours on end. It's a trial for the other inhabitants of the forest. Luckily, most of them are able to eventually tune it out.

Today, the common scold seems to be in some kind of snit because of the lack of discipline of young birds by their parents. Here's the lede in a column today:
There's a childhood epidemic sweeping Minnesota and the nation. Its warning signs aren't fever or skin rashes. The symptoms are behavioral -- and unmistakable.
The common scold, we'll call her Katie, believes that children would be better behaved if they were just punished and told by their parents "NO" more often. The idea has superficial appeal. Boys and girls, when Spotty barks "NO" at you what happens?

We learn not to do whatever it is you said "NO" about when you are in the room, Spotty. That's supposed to be the lesson, isn't it?

Exactly, grasshopper! You learn that the dominant individual can control the behavior of the others. It doesn't teach you about why you should refrain from doing something: the lesson is dominance and submission. Now there is a role for that, especially in very young children to, among other things, keep the safe. But, one of the other lessons taught is that it is good to be dominant because then you can make the rules.

Spotty says it is far better to teach children empathy, a quality that they are born with, but which can be extinguished by authoritarian upbringing. A sense of empathy--sometimes also known as a conscience--serves much better when the authority is not around.

Give Spotty the empathetic adult over the dominance-submissive type every time.

One of the common scold's other frequently used vocalization is NoNoNoNoNoNo! This is often used around adolescents of the species. You can pick out these adolescents by their hunched shoulders and failure to make eye contact. They often have, well, a henpecked appearance.

And boys and girls, before we go in for a mug of hot chocolate, there is just one more call that Spot wants to mention. It is gointohell gointohell gointohell. This is the sound the common scold makes when she is distressed about what is on television.

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