Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


February 19, 2013

We the People: Cranes, politics and progress

CROSSVILLE — We’re in a flyway for large flocks of migrating sandhill cranes. Their trumpeting approach can be difficult to localize. As the flight nears, the birds’ colors blend into the sky with the outlines of long necks, wings that spread five to six feet and feet and legs stretched out behind in natural aerodynamic efficiency.

I saw one recent flight circle to follow their leader and wait for stragglers to catch up with the main flock. One straggler was struggling to stay aloft. It faltered and began to fall, still fighting against the loss of altitude. The remainder of the flock seemed to pause. When the falling crane disappeared below the tree line, the stragglers rejoined the main flock and the flock pressed on against a light wind. They sensed that it is best to stick together.

Humans have a tendency for personification—attributing human qualities or imagined human behavioral traits or habits to lower-order animals. Because the cranes left a member behind that day perhaps the main flock was made up of conservatives. They circled to let the stragglers join, but when the lone crane began to fall they made the falling bird accountable for its own behavior and its own survival. Conservatives say, “That’s just the way it is—every crane for itself.” Others might say the straggling cranes were progressives and fell behind to encourage the aged or wounded bird. Progressives might imagine both compassion and valor for the flock to pause as the elder or wounded one dropped out so the flock could continue unhindered and the wounded one could meet its end on the wing, never giving up. But that is only personification.

Humans also move in flocks, but metaphors provide no data. We have different concepts of “the American Dream,” of where we hope to work or who we hope to be. The dream may be a full belly and a warm place to sleep. It may be of a large farm or a palatial home. Or it may be only a fervent hope that our family will be healthy and prosperous. No matter what we imagine as the dream, we may never get it all, as a nation or as individuals. But most of us have a shot at a part of our American Dream. But we cannot flap and squawk in a circle like Congress trying to solve a simple problem. If we want the dream we must go after it, helping others if we are able.

Our dreams are not singular. They’re different for each of us. In our democracy we elect leaders partly on how we prefer our government to help its citizens. Some notice other citizens who could use some help. Others believe it is every individual for himself or herself. Some of us take too much. Others must give too much, especially in war. Few of us appreciate the mysteries of our own good fortune or the tribulations of others. But how we all work together determines the character of the country. To some extent both cranes and humans operate on instinct. Humans also have common sense. But our common sense often gets lost in politics. The last election is over, like it or not. Common sense says it’s time to get over it, to quit pouting and follow our elected leader. That’s what democracy is all about. Win some, lose some, but keep moving in the same direction.

• • •

This column represents alternative thoughts to other published columns in the Crossville Chronicle. “We the People” is published each Wednesday. Opinions expressed in “We the People” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact John Wund, editor, at

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