Feeling rather discouraged by the news — Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, stymied China trade talks, overwhelmed border and Congress still too busy fighting to take notice — I looked for something soothing and beautiful in a Nova piece on hummingbirds. Hardly! I was instantly confronted with amazing scenes of aerial combat. A hummingbird peacefully sipping on a flower was dive-bombed from behind — Whamo! — with a beak slamming into his head. It didn’t show the result but it looked fatal.

In recounting this story to friends, a bird watcher said, “You need to know the rest of the story.” Yes, hummingbirds do fight over food territory, but, when they gather for as much as 20 days fueling up to fly 450 miles across the Gulf of Mexico, they cease fighting.  

Each bird needs to increase its weight by 35 percent for this annual migration.

It seems that fighting and violence is a normal part of nature: predator and prey, adults fighting wars, children fighting over toys. At one stage, bringing up our two, I thought they never would learn to love each other. However, in special situations (little brother threatened), older sister switched to protective mode. As the hummingbirds dropped fighting in preparation for the immense challenge before them, we too pulled together when our country was attacked on 9/11. As time passed, we resumed fighting. 

There’s some indication, however, of a growing concern that hatred in our culture has progressed beyond “normal” to threatening the country. Several TV programs have focused on the imperative of reconciliation. A “60 Minutes” piece told the story of a young woman unable to get on with her life after her brother died in an accident caused by a drunk driver, until she visited the person responsible in prison. Such conversations are never easy. But, seeing that he was consumed by remorse and regret, she was finally able to reach across the table and take his hand, saying, “You are not a bad person.” Healing had begun for both of them.

MSNBC’s “Breaking Through Hate” portrayed another face-to-face meeting: a young white supremacist who drove his car through pedestrians in Charlottesville meeting the mother whose daughter died. A former Nazi type arranged the meeting in an effort to convince his young friend to leave white supremacism as he had done. 

Talk with the mother was difficult. Finally, she asked, “Do you want a hug?” After significant hesitation, he agreed.

Vulnerable people are recruited to such groups that offer a sense of cause and belonging; it’s not easy for them to see that the group’s purpose is evil and they need to break that bond. 

It’s interesting that, while the latter meeting was in a little church, there was no other indication that Christian motivation prompted either of these reconciliations. My friends and I puzzled over why it’s a no-no, seemingly terrifying, to mention religion, even when it meets a need for forgiveness and love. 

Fareed Zakaria suggested, to combat growing polarization, voluntary work programs bringing together young people of vastly different backgrounds as happens in military service. The Peace Corps has promoted greater understanding of many cultures, within and without our country, and is still active.

The Mormon Church requires a period of missionary service of its young men. We met one who stayed on in Brazil as a journalist. He became seriously interested in a Brazilian girl and, when meeting the family, her father inquired about the tenets of his Mormon faith. Thinking everyone knew polygamy was no longer practiced, he jokingly replied that he hoped she would be his first wife of many. That remark put a swift end to any such hope.

Humor doesn’t always translate. Perhaps lack of cultural understanding contributes to international conflicts.

With regard to China, even Chuck Schumer agrees we need to confront abusive trade practices. Yet the importance of courtesy and “saving face” that I saw in the Chinese culture while studying the language leads me to think they may find our arrogant bluntness intolerable. Firmness about change is important, but perhaps could be more politely phrased.

Even hummingbirds know when it’s time to stop fighting. Are congressmen incapable of such understanding? Crises in every direction, domestically and internationally — how much more will it take? 

Verna, who lives in Kerrville, worked for the U.S. Foreign Service, which took her across the globe, including to Argentina, Taiwan and Chile.

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