Thursday, 13 December 2012

The oblique approach

For an idle few minutes, watching the feeding birds in my frozen back garden, I was intrigued by the odd way a very large magpie was behaving.

While chaffinches, reed buntings, starlings and blackbirds all fed apparently without first sizing up the competition, the magpie (at least 4 times the size of most of them), eyed them, and then the food, before making a series of sideways lunges at its chosen morsel.

Its ungainly awkward hop seemed designed to attract twice the attention any of the others might, and yet, when one of them turned towards the same bit of food, the magpie was suddenly aggressive and on the attack.

This reminded me quite suddenly of a conversation I was having last evening at my Icon painting class, about a person known to us both who was making life very difficult for someone else, with a series of similarly side-long or oblique attacks on their way of working.  This method, we both agreed, was not a desirable or even a particularly honourable way of pointing out another person's deficiencies.

This in turn, provoked a lengthy debate on what is, or ought to be, the right way to 'correct' the modus operandi of a subordinate.  We both agreed that a direct, but diplomatic and preferably fairly gentle approach was likely to produce the best results.

It is easy to offend someone who is not self-confident, and even easier to undermine them in the eyes of their peers, and oblique 'Chinese whispers' are even worse than an out and out attack.

Sadly it is not only magpies which have a cruel streak.


  1. Absolutely, Ray. Learning how to criticise someone's work in a helpful, positive way is a lot harder than knowing how to give praise and it's a skill a lot of people never learn. You're right about the magpie's odd behaviour too. :-)

  2. I have to say Perpetua, that what makes it worse for me is that I can't get involved. This really is something I have to stand back from, and just hope that the individual concerned realises what harm is being done.
    Maybe magpie's are not the finest role models for human behaviour.

  3. Oh so true! I appreciate the direct approach for the very reasons you note here. Gossip, innuendo, manipulation & sniping never accomplishes anything worthwhile!

  4. Except maybe a brief flash of satisfaction for the perpetrator, hopefully to be followed by remorse.
    Sad isn't it Kathleen, that evolution is very slow for some of us?

  5. very interesting bit of observation. I have recently been swiped at by a human magpie and bear the scars. Wonderful how this behaviour is instantly recognizable.

  6. As you have discovered Jean, it is always when one is at one's most vulnerable that this sort of person launches an attack.
    I hope your scars will heal quickly.