It’s a universal truth that in the animal world, ducks are the “good guys” and turtles that hunt them are the “bad guys,” right?
Let’s talk about perspective.
One spring day, my family and I were strolling along a trail next to a small pond. A mother duck and her ducklings were swimming along the shore when one of the ducklings quickly darted away toward deeper water, leaving one of their siblings behind.
The mother duck frantically began flapping her wings and splashing around the lone duckling who was struggling to swim away. The duckling appeared to have a foot stuck near a large snapping turtle-shaped rock. As my brain slowly and insufficiently processed the situation, I threw off my shoes and socks and waded into the water to rescue the duckling in distress.
I grabbed a stick to pry the duckling’s seemingly wedged foot out from the rock. As I studied the situation closer, I finally realized that the snapping turtle-shaped rock was, in fact, a snapping turtle-shaped snapping turtle. It had snapped the foot of the duckling and was attempting to snack on the poor little quacker.
I thought to myself, “Not on my watch, evil snapping turtle!” Teamed with the mother duck, still flapping back and forth, we began to beat against the turtle with sticks and wings and desperate fury. Haunting cries of squawks and quacks and shrieks filled the air, plus whatever the duck said. Finally, the turtle released his clenched snapper and the duckling scurried away to join his relieved siblings.
I was a hero! I puffed out my chest, gazed off into the distance and forcefully propped my closed fists on each hip, in stereotypical hero pose. I had done a universally-accepted good thing. There was obviously no question and no room for debate that good prevailed and evil was thwarted that fateful day. Over the next days and weeks, however, the shine began to fade from my selfless act of dauntless valor. I felt compelled to reignite the flame of inspiration for my family through subtle reminders in unrelated conversations.
Wife: “We’re out of stamps.”
Me: “I wonder if that duckling I heroically rescued is out of stamps?”
Meanwhile back at the pond, a failed hunter returned to his turtle nest empty handed. His futile attempt at providing a meal for his family left him unbearably ashamed. He reflected on his youth, when snapping a duckling was as easy as taking candy from a baby (neither of which were harmed in the making of this story).
Mr. Snapping Turtle perceived his turtle wife wasn’t looking at him the same adoring way she used to back in his snapping prime, despite her insistence that she found him as attractive and useful now as ever before. He entered full-blown midlife crisis mode. Recklessly attempting to recapture lost vitality, he hired the pond’s most exclusive personal trainer and bought a new sports car. To fulfill his new financial commitments, he dipped into his turtle children’s college fund. His turtle son henceforth carried with him an animosity over not being able to attend The University of Maryland, settling for a school with in-state tuition. His son claimed the Green Bay Packers as his new favorite team to spite his father. The son moved away and now only seldom calls or writes, and even then, typically only to his mother.
All jokes aside, my point is this: sometimes we see the world so clearly. We arrogantly puff out our chest and boldly claim that our views and opinions are absolute. “I am right. They are wrong.” “Ducks are good. Turtles are bad.” “The grass is green, the sky is blue, and The Beatles are overrated.”
But not every situation we encounter fits into a definitive box of absolutism.
Sometimes the situation requires an appreciation of nuance — of perspective. Our perspective of the circumstance is just that: “ours.” And their perspective is “theirs.” Both perspectives may or may not be similar, relevant and equally valid. This ambiguity does not mean we should dampen our devotion to a cause. An acknowledgement of another perspective is not a mandate to change our position or even to compromise. It simply allows us to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and, while we still may not agree with them, enables us to empathize and understand their perspective.
A duck doesn’t sacrifice itself simply because a snapping turtle is hungry. But we can only start to see the situation more clearly when we humble ourselves a bit and concede that our point of view alone renders the story incomplete.
Sometimes all it takes is looking at things from the perspective of a turtle.