The white bird and the spies — I mean, birdwatchers

“You were right. It was an egret.”

Mercedes greeted me this way when we met on the abandoned railroad track. Lest you think we are spies — exchanging passphrases as we rendezvous to hand over the microfilm — I’ll quickly let you know that those days are far behind me.

But, seriously … Mercedes and I often run into each other on our respective evening walks through the woods and wetlands behind our neighborhood. The railroad track overlooks a pond. The day before, a large, white bird stood at the edge of the water. Mercedes asked me if I had seen the heron.

“Oh, the egret,” I gently pointed out. My limited experience tells me that egrets are white and herons are blue (not to mention great).

“I think it was a heron,” she replied cordially, perhaps just as sure and unsure as I was.

The conversation continued with something about yellow legs versus black legs, and we left it there: Mercedes saw a heron; I saw an egret.

When we met the next day, her first utterance was “You were right. It was an egret.” She went on to say that she had seen white herons in the Florida Keys, but she just learned that they don’t live in our region.

Mercedes impressed me. She was demonstrating some of the skills and traits of healthy and effective thinkers:

  • She conducted research to verify what kind of bird we saw.
  • She showed humility. She doesn’t think that she knows everything. If she had been sure that she was right, she wouldn’t have learned anything new.
  • She exercised curiosity. She was interested to know the truth.
  • She displayed winsomeness. Imagine if she had responded to me with something like, “It’s obviously a heron, you loon!” Not only would I have found a new place to walk, I probably would have dug in my heels with my egret theory.

Striving to practice what I preach, I did some research myself. I took a few photos of the bird and uploaded them to my Merlin Bird ID app. It was, indeed, an egret. But — get this, y’all — I’ve just learned that an egret is a type of heron. It turns out that both Mercedes and I were right and wrong, in a sense.

Whether the bird is an egret or a heron (or both) is not a big deal, so it’s fairly easy to admit that we’re wrong about it. It’s not so easy when it comes to significant matters that we care deeply about. But it’s far more important to practice the skills and traits of healthy and effective thinkers when we handle issues that are a big deal. Let’s practice on the simple stuff so that it’s easier when the major stuff comes along.

The next time I see Mercedes, I’ll be sure to let her know how she, too, was right. I’ll simply say the passphrase — an egret is a type of heron — and then hand over the microfilm.

This blog post will self-destruct in five seconds.

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