To Be Right, Or To Be Effective?

Cuthbert Rumbold is an 11 pound Barred Rock rooster who rules the roost in our chicken restaurant and day spa. As is often the case with roosters raised by hand that lose their fear of humans, he can be a bit hazardous.

“I would put that rooster right into the stew pot,” a neighbor opined. My wife loathes Cuthbert, who seems to take a special interest in challenging her.

Mr. Rumbold has tried to flog me several times as well, but we have an understanding which took some effort to work out. It involved a bamboo quarterstaff and its role in convincing Cuthbert that it was impossible to get close enough to lay a spur on me, and that the end of the staff could get to wherever he was going faster than he could.

Now if there are any of you PETA disciples who might take issue with my relationship with our magnificent and uninjured rooster, like the ones who meddled in the Possum Drop over in a neighboring community, rest assured that there is no cruelty involved in this training. The only contact with the staff is when old Cuth flies into it. The whole purpose of the exercise is to convince him that the staff is quicker and just as relentless, and simply placing the end of it in front of wherever he goes results in his eventual submission.

What it all means is that Cuthbert gets to live, and most of the time now he immediately retreats to the opposite side of the yard when I enter the pen. That doesn’t mean that I’ll ever turn my back on him. He is a rooster, after all, and a creature long on instinct and short on cognition.

“I wouldn’t have a rooster like that,” another neighbor said. “Why do you keep him?”

Because Cuthbert would fight to the death to protect his flock. Last week an owl settled into our cove and started hooting. Cuthbert raised the alarm and stood between the hens and the owl. A few days later I burned a pile of brush in the garden below the hen house. The chickens had never seen fire or smoke before, but their natural instincts took over. When the fire started crackling, Cuthbert herded all the hens back inside their house and stood watch on the ramp outside. Whenever there is any kind of danger, Cuthbert is the first one on the scene and the last one to leave.

I would be well within my “rights” to serve up old Cuthbert (he’s barely a year out of the egg but he got “old” very quickly) on a platter with some carrots and potatoes. But a question a mentor asked me once still informs me to this day: Would you rather be right, or would you rather be effective?” I’d rather have a rooster who will protect our little flock from the variety of predators we have living here at the edge of the wood.

We can modify that same question for our age of addiction to outrage and offense. Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy? If you’re in a happy marriage, chances are that you’ve already answered that question. I’m convinced that, at the core of the general animosity and rudeness that permeates online communities and poisons politics, there is an insistence on being right.

Being right is its own reward. Convincing others that we are right often means that we’re not all that sure that we are right, and we need validation or compliance to prop up our self image. When enough people are doing this at the same time, feathers will fly.

Which brings us to the bigger picture of the two main groups that have been flogging each other incessantly for the last 5 or 6 years. On one side of the pit we have conservatives, republicans – people who usually say they hold to Christian values. The problem is that they have handpicked some elements of the Faith that are useful mainly for accusing and condemning, and let slide the elements of charity, love and hope which made Christianity the original “inclusive” group.

On the other side of the pit are the “progressives,” liberals, democrats, and whoever else wants to fit under that umbrella. Some of them seem to have adopted an attitude of “I just want peace and I’ll kill to get it.” There is a lot of talk about inclusion and equality, but many seem bent on achieving that by pulling everyone down to the same level, and they aggressively seek out “wrong” thinking and “wrong” speech with the intent to punish it.

Both sides are “right,” and neither is very effective. There is no room for compromise, and little recognition that at the core of their beliefs, both sides want the same thing. Unseen by both sides is the invisible hand with the bamboo stick that keeps the flocks in a state of constant alarm.


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