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Parable of the Pigeons

"For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat.'"1

Michael Josephson told about an experiment where "pigeons were put in cages with one green and one red button. In one cage, if the birds pecked the green button they got food every time. In the other, the green button yielded food erratically and the pigeons had to persist to get enough food. In both cases, pecking the red button did nothing. Both sets of birds thrived, learning what they had to do to survive and ignoring the red button that yielded no food. But when the birds that were used to getting a reward every time [when they hit the green button] were put in the cage that fed them only occasionally, they failed to adapt; they hit their heads against the cage and pecked wildly at everything in sight.

"The pigeons were smart enough to learn quickly how to get the benefits they wanted by hitting the green button and avoid hitting the red button which did nothing for them. Sadly, for some of the pigeons, who had been spoiled by getting rewarded every time they hit the green button, were unable to adapt to the new situation which only worked occasionally."2

How like human beings! Kids who are spoiled by their parents by getting everything they want can find it exceptionally difficult to adapt in the real world when they have to start fending for themselves. Furthermore, they can have major conflicts in marriage if and when they expect their spouse to continue giving them everything they wantóbe it realistic or otherwiseówith little or no effort on their part.

And then for the rest of us, if we would just learn to stop hitting red buttons, we would find that life would be so much more enjoyable and satisfying.

As Josephson said, "Part of being responsible is learning from experience to appreciate the benefits of tenacity and the wisdom of avoiding useless, harmful and self-defeating patterns of behavior."3

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, help me to always be responsible in everything I do, and have sense enough to avoid self-defeating patterns of behavior. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

1. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (NIV).
2. Michael Josephson, Character Counts.
3. Ibid.


All articles on this website are written by
Richard (Dick) Innes unless otherwise stated.