Pelicans and the Principles of Freedom

I like watching birds.  That’s not the same as bird-watching.  Just watching birds.  I’ve always been fascinated by birds in flight.  When I’m walking or running along the Strand I keep my eyes open for birds. Typically I see pigeons, a couple of crows, some pelicans and seagulls  There’s always bunch of seagulls hanging out near the Redondo Beach Pier. Most are just standing on the beach, looking our to sea. There are always a few picking at trash in the parking lot, chasing each other and bickering over some choice morsel.

I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull when I was a teenager and even saw the movie in the theater when it was released.


But like Johnathan, ordinary seagulls don’t inspire me.  I like to watch the pelicans in flight. On land pelicans are awkward, ugly creatures. A friend of mine, who is a fisherman and surfer says he hates pelicans.  They are always trying to steal his bait.  If they catch the bait, you have a heck of a time reeling it in and getting the hook out of its beak.

But in flight pelicans are transformed into something entirely different. They can soar endlessly with only an occasional flap of their wings.  They usually fly in formation, one behind the other, just to the side of the leader’s wingtips.

Early in the morning the Santa Monica Bay is often still and smooth as glass, reflecting the pale blue of the dawn sky.  When the water is like this the pelicans skim along just inches above the water.  I’ve often wondered why they do this and how they can stay in the air so effortlessly.

Another favorite flying technique is wave hopping.  As a wave rolls in the line of pelicans form up and skim along just inches above the wave.  As they skim along the length of the wave they angle in slightly toward the beach, riding on the cushion of air pushed up by the swell. As the wave starts to break they flap two or three times and glide out to the next wave that is just beginning to swell.

Pelicans understand the natural laws governing their environment, like the laws of aerodynamics.  Whether they learned from inborn instinct, following examples, or their own experience, somehow they know and this allows them to survive and thrive.  It’s when they stray from the natural environment that they know that they run into trouble.

When a pelican tries to snag an easy meal by stealing my friend’s bait, they get snagged instead. When they stray from the laws that they know they lose their freedom and suffer the indignity of losing their freedom of flight and suffering the pain of having the hook extracted from their beak or gullet.

People are kind of the same way.  If we stick to the right principles, life goes smoothly. When we stray from what is right we can get ourselves in trouble. The challenge is to know what is right.

Physical laws like gravity are pretty obvious.  You can’t say that you don’t believe in gravity.  Whether you believe in it or not, it will still have the same effect. If you trip on something, you will fall down. There are the scientific laws of the physical world: physics, chemistry, and biology.  There are the laws of mathematics: algebra, geometry and calculus.

Then there are traffic laws.  If you drive responsibly, obeying the traffic laws, stopping for red lights, drive the speed limit and don’t drive drunk, you are free to drive all over town.  But if you decide not to obey or believe in the traffic laws, “Red lights don’t apply to me!” Sooner or later you will get a ticket or have an accident. Then you will lose your freedom  because your car is totaled, you get injured or end up in jail.

There are other types of laws, societal mores, emotional and relational principles.  If you learn these principles and follow them you will enjoy freedom, peace and loving relationships.  Many of these are laid out in familiar and ancient scriptures.

The Bible teaches in the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Very good advice.

There is usually reciprocity in these spiritual principles, meaning what you give is what you get.

Judge not lest ye be judged.  
The measure you give will be the measure you receive.
You reap what you sow.

Even common sense says, “What goes around, comes around.”

Just like gravity, these principles rule our lives even if we decide not to believe in them or follow their wisdom.

Even Freedom follows certain principles.  I have tried to illustrate the first of these in this blog post.

The Principles of Freedom are:

(1) There is only freedom within the Principle (Physical and Natural Laws).

(2) There is no freedom without human responsibility (consequences, good or bad).
Our primary responsibility is to learn the principles and apply them in our daily lives. Dad always told me when teaching me to drive, “Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.” These principles are always in action, whether we understand them and whether we believe in them or not.  Ignorance of the Law is no excuse.

(3) There is no freedom without good results. (The Pursuit of Happiness)  If you act “freely” and experience bad consequences, or cause harm to others, that is not true freedom.

In this blog post I tried to illustrate the first principle of freedom, Freedom within the Principle.  In future blog posts I will tackle the other principles of freedom.

I welcome your comments and questions.


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