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The Parable of the Hummingbird and Raven
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 05/23/2016

The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

This is a story-based icebreaker. It is an excellent point of departure for a module on working with difficult colleagues.

It is a story of human concerns masked in the guise of talking birds. Basically, it is about someone who has great difficulty rolling with new changes.

Questions follow the story. All of them come back to addressing being stuck in the rut of routine.

To keep interest, a short PowerPoint might be a good tool. This can feature a picture of each character to correspond with the paragraph that the reader is on. For example, when reading a paragraph about the raven, an image of a raven can be on screen. The initial work for this would be worth it for keeping interest. Also, it makes the facilitator more familiar with the story.

I believe that this should be read aloud by the facilitator. Having the class read silently would lend to skimming and less comprehension. It helps to train the trainer. Also, the instructor can gauge the crowd as the story goes on.

At the end of the reading, questions one through ten are asked of the participants. In an active group, answers will inspire more answers. Sometimes, as we have all found, we need to prod the group a bit. A recorder can be appointed to mark answers on the board or flip chart.

Also, there may be animosity driven by the story if similar incidents occur in the facility. Therefore, the facilitator must be mindful of events. It is wise to state that participants should not attack individual but should talk about concepts.

Now it is story time…

Sometimes, we perform a task so often that we can do it with our eyes closed. In fact, if not for change, we could cruise along in perpetuity in a blindfold. Yet, that is a perfect world. As reality teaches us, the world does not stand still for anyone.

Did you ever hear the one about the Hummingbird and the Raven? I think that it is a good story.

One day in late June, Raven sat on a railing overlooking a blooming garden. She was basking in the sun, reflecting on the past winter. As we all know, ravens stick around for the bad weather. They do not fly elsewhere during the hard times of the year.

Raven’s solitude was shattered by the sickening thud of bone on a plate glass window. There she saw Hummingbird in avian agony, amid recently loosened feathers from the little bird’s noggin. Hummingbird massaged his crown with his wingtips. Chirping in high pitched, impatient expletives, Hummingbird shook off his stupor.

Raven suppressed her smirk as much as she could. This was the first time that Raven saw Hummingbird since he had flown south to escape the bad weather. And it seemed to Raven that Humming bird had not changed. He was still too busy to be careful.

“Who put that building there? I almost killed myself!” Hummingbird squeaked. “How am I supposed to get to the flowers with that thing in my way? I always used to fly this way. Now I am blocked!”

Raven said dryly, “It is for tools. What does it matter who put it there? It looks like you have to find a better way to the flowers.”

The rant continued: “It’s stupid! Why is it there? There is no rational reason to put a building in my way!”

“Still, it is there. Never mind the rationale,” drawled Raven.

“But I cross pollinate and help keep Spring and Summer diverse and beautiful. Without me, this would be a drab place. It may as well be winter. What do you want, a world of weeds? Don’t they know that my job is important?”

“Yeah, I am sure that everyone knows how important you are,” mocked Raven. “But the fact remains that you should have slowed down and assessed the scene. You could have been done with your job by now if you hadn’t stopped to complain.”

Defensively, Hummingbird squawked, “What do you know? All you do is scavenge off animals that are already dead. I am part of a living system. You are the reaper’s bird. And you have the luxury of flying around for your work. My path is very well defined – and now it is blocked!”

“Well, well,” croaked Raven, “It didn’t take you long to get personal with me. Quit ignoring the fact that YOU slammed your head into a solid object. I did not. If you are moving too fast to be safe, that is your problem. If you can’t adapt to new, immovable circumstances, how can anyone help you?”

Hummingbird glared at Raven, chirping in contempt. “Sanctimonious Raven! So proper, so righteous!”

As Raven flew carefully away to tend to the next carrion, she could not help thinking that Hummingbird would end up hurt or worse.

Raven was right. It was just two days later – right in the middle of the bird work week- that Hummingbird was found sporting x’s for eyes. Did he die from a concussion? Was stress the main factor in his demise? Did he implode out of frustration? Was it his time to go? Did he forget about the new obstacle? Raven simply did not know.

She did know that though both of them had bird brains, one of them had survived the occupational hazard of change. Hummingbird’s inability to relearn, adapt, and navigate around new obstacles were the chief factors in his death. Fellow birds had warned Hummingbird to slow down many times. Perhaps it was in his nature to operate in that way.

In the end, it may be a waste of time to wonder why we have to circumvent what we perceive as impediments. Instead, we need to assess, adapt, and act accordingly. Those three A’s can help us to cope with a new paradigm and prevent us from banging our heads on a new, often intractable reality.

Here are some questions to consider:
  • What was the hummingbird’s problem?
  • Why did the hummingbird resort to insulting the raven when the raven was being honest?
  • Is it possible to work too fast in corrections – like the humming bird?
  • What are some of the consequences of working in a rut of routine?
  • To which character do you most relate – the hummingbird or the raven?
  • How do you deal with corrections’ hummingbirds?

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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