During summertime, my grandparents used to take my cousin and me to Târgu Neamț, a small town in the north of the country, where my grandmother was from. I have great childhood memories from there, but also a few that I’m not so proud of.
Like any child, I had plenty of ideas and plans that seemed reasonable at the time. My grandmother’s sister was living there and kept a few chickens in the garden, for fresh eggs. I must have been 5 or 6 when, one day, I had the revelation that chickens don’t fly, despite having wings. After careful consideration, I concluded that their parents could not teach them, because they were domesticated and forgot all about it. If I could just remember them how it’s done, then they could fly away: I would set them free, and the chickens would be forever grateful.
I presented my thoughts to my cousin. She agreed that the theory was sound and the cause was well deserving our efforts. We decided to pick the two youngest ones and teach them their forgotten skill, because the younger you are, the faster you learn. Everything made sense.
Since chickens have wings and flying is an instinct, we thought it must be just a matter of training. Therefore, we proceeded to catch them, climb on a tall garden table, and throw them up in the air, as high as we could. They would desperately flap their tiny wings a couple of times while falling down, and then run away. “Not so fast”, we would say, chasing and catching them back and throwing them once again in the air: “You will thank us one day!”.
After a few days, our brave trainees suddenly disappeared. Their progress was below expectations, so flying away was not an option to consider. We asked our grandmother, who answered ambiguously, claiming they were “ill” (she didn’t know anything about our secret flying school, of course). I never saw the poor creatures again, and, while hoping that our ambitious program didn’t cause their disappearance, I had to take that possibility into account.
This story makes me sad, although I’ve probably eaten hundreds of animals since then, that lived much more miserable lives than those two. But it also scares me a bit, because at the time, I was convinced I was doing the right thing. My reasoning made perfect sense, and, even now, I would say it was mostly correct. I was only missing some bits of information, such as that, after many years of human interference, chickens can’t achieve sustained flight; and young ones might get hurt when falling from a few meters.
In hindsight, our training program was quite silly, and it probably had a tragic ending. I can pass it off as one of the many “stupid things” children do. But could it be that I’m still teaching chickens to fly sometimes? Could it be that some of my convictions are wrong, at least partially, that I’m missing some aspects or apply the wrong methods? We often see it in others, but rarely in ourselves. Could it be that sometimes, the ideas we promote and the actions we take, despite our good intentions, end up doing more harm than good? I think it happens quite often with adults too.