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THE STOCKHOLM EFFECT
January 28, 2004
 
I can't believe we caved like that, I said on the way home from the bird store. In the back seat rode a bag of compressed corn cylinders, each with a hole bored through it so it could fit on the spike of the squirrel feeder for which we had just paid fourteen dollars. We almost bought one for twenty-five dollars, until I realized that we were about to plunk down good money on something that included a chair on which a squirrel could sit to eat his food, for heaven's sake.

Good Lord. That was close.

This is the slippery slope of ethical compromise. One minute you're protecting your birds' expensive seed mixtures against marauding squirrels and the next minute you're putting in a squirrel nursing home. I believe this psychological phenomenon is known as the Stockholm effect, wherein a hostage begins to identify with her captors and to adopt their values. This has now happened to us. After many seasons of efforts to prevent the squirrels from stealing birdseed -- cayenne pepper on the seed, a rigged feeder that swings wildly around and throws the squirrels into space, feeders with doors that shut under the weight of a squirrel, huge baffles intended to make it impossible for them to climb into the tray feeder -- we have given up and decided to feed them ourselves.
Woodpeckers like this compressed corn a lot, too, the lady in the bird store says consolingly. I am too stunned by my sudden capitulation even to react to the temptation of more woodpeckers. Whatever, I say, fishing in my purse for some money.

What is troubling is that we didn't make this decision before entering the store. We made it there. A lady was buying an enormous amount of food for her squirrels, talking about how much she loved to feed them. What? But we were drawn in. We had no adequate answer for why it was good to feed birds and bad to feed squirrels. There is no good reason. It is just a preference. All are God's creatures.

We do have a certain codependent need to be tyrannized over by small animals. The cats have run us for years, and the birds can get me up out of a warm bed, if I think their hanging tray is covered with snow so they can't get to it. Soon the squirrels will be ordering Chinese food and billing it to my Visa. I know them. This is how it starts.

It is colonizing, some say, to feed them at all. Not a good idea. They need to forage. I say they are foraging. They're foraging in our garden. It's paradise back there.

Perhaps we should not have begun feeding anybody. That would have been a terrible loss to us, because we find the birds so delightful, but perhaps it would have been right. Since we have begun, though, it was right of the squirrels to continue their guerilla actions until we admitted them into the family. If we are a colonial power, they have forced us into becoming a more benevolent one.

What do you do when you're half way down a road you shouldn't have started out on in the first place? Sometimes you can't retrace your steps and go back where you came from. Sometimes you can't even make restitution if restitution would have been appropriate: it's too late, or your restitution would cause more hurt than healing. Sometimes you have to find a way to the good from where you are, no matter how you got there.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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