He was a beautiful bird. The male cardinal perched on the passenger side mirror of our car was a brilliant red and judging from his size, he was young. I stood motionless and watched him fly around from his post on the bracket holding the mirror to face his reflection. Then he pecked aggressively at the bird who was facing him. After some heavy-duty pecking, he’d fly back to the bracket and rest. Then he would resume his attack on the bird who was staring him down. It was a comical thing to watch.
A little research taught me that these territorial birds sing in a loud, clear whistle from the top of a tree or other high location to defend their turf and will chase off other male invaders of the protected space. I also learned that what I witnessed is common. A male cardinal will see his image on various reflective surfaces and mistake it for an invading male. Then he will fight his reflection relentlessly.
It occurred to me that sometimes we do the same thing. By projection or in reality, we see reflections of ourselves in others and we don’t like what we see. So we do the human version of pecking. Or we mis-label a friendly face as the enemy and attack.
I guess the lesson is that when we see something we don’t like in another person, we would do well to consider carefully why we don’t like it. How much of our dislike or distrust is about him or her, and how much is about us? In the polarized world we live in, unnecessary negativity is the last thing we need. And judging by what remained on the car door when the cardinal finished his war on himself, misplaced negative feelings can really make a mess.