Raven’s Fly is a song for children with disabilities.
These children may lack status in a competitive world. They may have difficulty learning, speaking, playing, moving, or understanding emotion. But the poet of life mystically works through these children to show us what is truly beautiful.
A song for children with disabilities
The song, Ravens Fly, provides a progressive faith perspective on how children with disabilities show us what is truly precious and beautiful in life. The song uses a metaphor drawn from Jesus’ teaching about ravens and lilies to illustrate how the most important things in life do not require status and they are not won through competition. Instead, one of the most important things is to experience the beauty that is found in all people regardless of ability or achievement. This beauty is especially pure and evident in children with disabilities. They may have difficulty with learning, speaking, playing, or moving. They may have difficulty understanding their emotions or following social customs. Yet, these children (and I know this as a parent with personal experience) bring something wonderful to the world.
Children with disabilities are often the ones that show us what is truly precious and beautiful.
To understand why this is so, it is helpful first to think about the ways in which humans tend to be competitive and focused on issues of status. We can then consider how this contrasts with what we learn from children who have limitations – children who may sometimes lack the ability to be highly competitive or lack status, but who have something much more wonderful to offer.
The world is a competitive place.
Animals compete to get food, to escape from predators, and to obtain access to mates. As we learn from evolutionary theory, animals with traits that give them a competitive advantage are likely to survive, to mate, and to pass their adaptive traits on to their offspring. Animals with less adaptive traits may not survive.
In addition, many types of animals live in groups with established dominance hierarchies (for example, this is common in many types of monkeys and other primates). In a dominance hierarchy, animals may gain high status by having physical strength or by holding power to give rewards or to inflict violence on other animals.
In a species that has these types of hierarchies, animals probably evolved to be especially quick to recognize status levels in themselves and in other animals. Animals with high status know they are capable of winning fights and they can safely challenge or threaten other animals over access to food, mates, or territory. In contrast, animals with lower status know it is not safe to challenge or threaten those with higher status. Instead, for low-status animals, the best strategy is to befriend animals of higher status, trusting that the higher status animals may be willing to share their resources.
In these hierarchies, animals give each other status signals that indicate whether they are claiming a dominant position or taking a submissive position. By displaying these signals, animals are often able to avoid fights. And, when fights do occur, an animal can usually end the fight by displaying a submissive signal, and this can reduce likelihood of the fight causing serious injury. In sum, there are many ways that being sensitive to status can help animals survive.
Humans also form dominance hierarchies and are highly sensitive to displays of status.
One of the most common ways we seek to obtain status is through money, which gives people the power to get the things they want. People also gain status if they have characteristics that make them popular, liked, and admired by others. A person’s status determines the power and privileges he or she has in life. It determines who can be included in a person’s circle of friends and who can become a person’s romantic partner.
Our focus on status is reflected in the extent to which people are often interested in the lives of the rich, the powerful, the popular, and the famous. We pay attention to things like what types of jobs we hold, types of houses we have, types of cars we drive, types of clothes we wear, and we pay attention to indicators of status such as education, title, rank, and position. Many of the emotions we feel, such as pride, shame, guilt, and embarrassment, are associated with being admired or rejected by others, which means that these emotions are closely connected to concerns over status.
It is important to note that, although many people want to become rich or powerful or famous, these things are unlikely to increase a person’s overall happiness in life. Rich, powerful, and famous people may not be, on average, any more or less happy than the general population. When people win a lottery, they typically experience an initial boost of high excitement, but it is common for them to return to the same level of happiness they had before they won the lottery. People may overestimate the extent to which wealth, power, and fame will increase their happiness.
I suspect that one reason for this has to do with the fact that these things are all markers of high status. People have probably evolved to be attentive to status and to desire high status. This means that it would be natural for people to crave these things, to expect them to produce happiness, and to have a strong drive to seek them.
In sum, our perceptions of status are ingrained in the way we see the world.
Perceiving status and being concerned about status is something we do automatically, without effort. We are naturally sensitive to issues of status, and we naturally desire status.
The process of obtaining status is a process that involves competition.
People have different levels of wealth, different levels of power, different levels of popularity, and different levels of attractiveness for potential romantic partners. Because things like power and popularity are not distributed evenly, people must compete to gain them. Thus, status could be defined by how much a person has been victorious and prevailed over others in competitive situations.
Importantly, the playing field for this competition is not level. Some people are born into privilege, whereas others are born into poverty. In addition, people are born with physical characteristics and appearances that will either promote or hinder their status. Most importantly for the present discussion, some people are born with skills that make them competitive to achieve a high status, whereas others may lack these skills.
A disability can be defined as a situation where a person lacks a skill in an area that is associated with achieving high status.
In other words, a disability is when a person has a limitation that could hinder his or her ability to compete to gain power or popularity. This means that there is a close connection between the things we call disabilities and our ideas about status.
To highlight the extent of this connection, consider the fact that there are many situations where people lack the ability to do things. For example, most people I know are able to do a lip trill (that motor-boat sound produced by blowing air and letting your lips bubble together), but for some reason, I find that I am not able to make this noise. However, my lack of ability in this area is not typically considered a disability. This raises a question: “Why is this not considered a disability?”
I think the reason my lip trill limitation is not viewed as a disability is that it does not in any way hinder my ability to achieve status. It does not hinder my ability to gain power or popularity. In contrast, if I had difficulty with learning, or moving my legs, or understanding emotions, these things could limit my ability to compete in some areas. These types of limitations are viewed as important and not trivial.
Why are these types of limitations important? It might be tempting to think they are important because they limit a person’s happiness. But, this is not always true. People with disabilities are often just as happy as people without disabilities. I think a better answer is that these types of limitations are important because they are viewed as limiting a person’s ability to compete in areas associated with status. That is, they are things that could limit a person’s ability to gain power or popularity.
Although it is natural to be competitive and concerned about status, an excessive focus on competition and status can make us cold and numb toward things that are truly good and beautiful in life.
If we focus only on competition and status, we may not learn how to love, to experience empathy, and to show compassion. We may not take the time to marvel at things in life and the things in nature that are truly beautiful and wonderful. Indeed, a focus on competition and status sometimes leads to exploitation, fighting, and violence. It is something that can be the source of much that is evil or ugly in the world. Thus, it is valuable to seek out experiences that will offset our tendency to overvalue competition and status. We need to have experiences that show us there is more to life than competition and status, that show us how life can be meaningful and wonderful, that show us what truly is good and beautiful.
One way to find this type of goodness and beauty is to learn about it from someone who holds a position of low status – that is, from someone who is limited in his or her ability to be competitive, to win, and to gain power and popularity. This could be a child with a disability. Of course, there are many types of disabilities. Sometimes children meet the challenges of their disabilities and are able obtain positions of high status in life. Other times, children have disabilities that substantially limit their ability to be competitive and to obtain positions of status. Some children will never be competitive to win the trophies, awards, or honors to which others may aspire. Some children will never be competitive to obtain a prestigious job, to take a position of power and authority, or to wield influence among the social elite.
It is especially these children, the ones who will never obtain positions of status, that show us what is truly important in life.
For example, consider a child with an autism spectrum disorder that has difficulty understanding why other people do things, and difficulty following the rhythms of a natural conversation between two people. She may struggle with learning and may have a hard time knowing what to do when she feels anxious. (Note, these are just a few possibilities; autism spectrum can include many different things.)
This child may have several areas where she lacks the skills to be competitive, and consequently, she may not be able to achieve a position of high status in her life. But when she laughs, and when she shows affection for those she loves, all those who know her feel the joy she shares. This is a joy that does not depend on winning and does not depend on status. It is a pure joy, and this makes one thing clear. It really does not matter if she can compete or gain a prestigious position of status in life. This is not where the beauty is. This is not what makes her life good. This is not what brings joy to the people who care for her.
It is the trust, the tenderness, the smile, the laugh, and the hug. These are the things that are truly good and truly beautiful.
When these things come from a child with a disability, it is as if they come in the purest form of all. It is a form that is not tainted by the prospect of competition, of winning, or of status, because this prospect does not exist. It is pure goodness and beauty.
The song, “Ravens Fly,” is about the goodness and beauty found in children with disabilities. The song makes a reference to a “poet of life” (which could be understood as a metaphor for God) who shows us a kind of beauty that can be found in simple things such as ravens flying and flowers growing, and also in children with disabilities. The song celebrates a type of goodness that is found, not on the mountain tops of high status, achievement, and prestige, but rather in the low valleys, in the humble places.
It is here, in the valleys, where children with disabilities shine like gems and show us what is truly precious in life.
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