Mem Fox in her book ‘Fools And Feathers ‘ elaborates through an anthropomorphic tale how easy it is for us to fall into the trap of hating each other for our differences. Centre to the story is a muster of peacocks and a bevvy of swans who co-exist near a lake. One day a peacock thinks aloud how strange it is that swans swim. Another wonders how strange it was that swans flew. The first peacock spoke again that he feared that the swans with their power to swim and fly would chase them away from their home. The muster of peacocks soon found themselves anxious and worried about this new fear. In their anxiety, they plucked out their feathers and fashioned them into arrows.
Alas, it did not end there. The foolish mischief monger among the peacock who instilled fear in the first place spoke aloud so that the swans may hear.
We shall hurl these arrows at their throats and slaughter every one should they ever try and change our way of life.
The swans too started to sharpen their feathers and hide them among the reeds of the lake. One day, a swan flew overhead with a reed, but so charged were the peacocks and swans with fear and mistrust that they thought it was an arrow and soon war ensued. It was a bloodbath with no living members left on either side. All that was left was death and destruction and a quiet lake.
An egg cracked, and a peachick hatched on what used to be peacock territory. Similarly, a cygnet(a baby swan) was born in swan territory. The two orphans, with no adults to teach them to encounter each other.
“You’re just like me”, said the first. “You have feathers and two legs”.
“You’re just like me”, said the second. “You have a head and two eyes”.
“Shall we be friends?” asked the first.
“Most certainly”,replied the second.
So off they went together, in peace and unafraid, to face the day and share the world.
The book is illustrated by Helen Semmler. The book’s author Mem Fox grew up in Africa, initially the only white child among a black African population. Her missionary parents had Dickens, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare and other literary greats in their library. Consequently, Mem read a lot and played a lot. Even as a child she realised people were not defined by the colour of their skin but by who they were.
I’ve always been passionately aware of race, and I have a subliminal desire to make the world realise how similiar it is to itself, instead of how different it is. Everything in my life sort of points to that. I’m very concerned about that and it’s not just between black and white, between Christian and Muslim, between Sunni and Shia. It’s all of us who scrape against each other and wind each other up and kill each other, instead of saying, “Oh you have a son, so do I. Do you love that son? I adore my son. ” or “Gosh we both have a grandmother. Yours causing you problems? Mine just lost her memory. Yours too? I’m so sorry.” But tthat’snot the kind of conversation we have. We just keep looking at the differences and it’s awful.
It would seem the world needs no further reason to understand why peace and love, overrule hate every time. Unfortunately, many foolish and misguided people continue to find the differences between people the reason to hate each other. They simply cannot look beyond each other’s religion, colour to see people for who they are – just regular folks who are working hard to provide for their families and get on with their lives.
Mem Fox has used two majestic birds the peacock and swan to show the futility in hating each other for their differences when in essence they are the part of the bird family. Yet superfluous factors like their feathers, the ability to fly and swim become the starting block of the extermination of both groups. We must guard ourselves against hate, which is corrosive. Words can stoke hate and fear. Parents and children must be mindful of this malady, Fox’s book cautions. We must she exhorts, take a look at our similarities and use our differences to learn, grow and better understand each other as a people.