Last summer, I heard a loud persistent peeping under the open living room window. There in the grass was a fledgling robin on the cusp of being old enough to fly. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s able to fly today. The fledgling’s feathers were still a bit fluffy, its red breast was dotted with white and the young bird was nearly the same size as its mother who was plucking earthworms from the lawn and feeding them to her nearly-adult offspring.
Listen to me read this post:
Having a life of my own, I went off to live it, but I noticed after a while some louder, more frantic chirping outside the window. I peeked out and the baby robin was still there, but its mother was nowhere to be seen. The mostly adult bird hopped around and finally flew up the short distance to sit between the two big red flowers in the front step planter. The more the fledgling peeped, the more I wanted to interfere, to shelter it, to bring it inside where I knew the little bird would be safe from danger.
That’s when I remembered something important: the young robin is not mine. It’s not up to me to manage its survival or its destiny. It’s not my job to teach it to hunt its own food and to fly a bit further than the height of my front step. Outside of actively trying to harm it or its habitat, it’s not even my job to protect it. In nature, living things often eat living things. The robin may survive and it may not, and my interference could really mess up its chances instead of improving them despite my best intentions.
Later in the day I received an unexpected phone call from someone I love. It was a courtesy call to let me know of a big decision that he’d made on the spot, one that would affect my loved one and his loved ones for the rest of their lives. I wanted so badly to interfere, to question judgment, to counsel against haste, and warn of regret.
That’s when I remembered something important: he is loved by me, but he is not mine. It’s not up to me to manage his life or decide his destiny. It’s not my job to choose his work or his spouse or to raise his children. Outside of actively trying to harm him or his family, it’s not even my job to protect him. I would, of course, if I could. In life, there are challenges to overcome and joys to experience. My loved one may have a happy life or he may not, and my interference could really mess up his chances at happiness instead of improving them despite my best intentions.
It can be awfully easy to confuse love with ownership, to believe that because we love someone they should do what we think is best for them. We may be right about what’s best and we may be wrong. Either way, it’s beside the point. The people we love will do what they’re going to do. If we disapprove, they’ll do it out of our sight. If we disagree, they won’t broach the subject again. In short, we can’t control anyone’s actions or emotions but our own.
I don’t know about you, but when I focus in on me, this one flawed, miraculous human being, I find enough to keep me very busy. When I look closely at myself, suddenly I’m less interested in judging others or in trying to change their behaviour and choices. I have my own life to live. I am granted the ability to decide, to work, to think critically, to create, to feel what I feel, and to experience this gift of being alive for this short time in this sprawling cosmos.
It’s not my responsibility to control anyone else because I don’t own anyone else. The great freeing news that comes along with this realization is that no one owns me, either. They can disapprove of my actions and I’ll act elsewhere. They can disagree with my ideas and I’ll stop sharing them, but they won’t change my mind. In short, I can’t control anyone’s actions or feelings but my own. It’s no less of a burden, running my own life instead of trying to run others’. Unlike trying to change the direction of the wind, though, ruling myself can actually lead to positive change in me and maybe, just maybe, that’s how we change the world.