Welcome to this Navigate the Chaos blog post. To hire Michael for a keynote speech, workshop, or presentation be sure to visit the Contact page. You can also purchase a copy of the latest Navigate the Chaos collection and download the Google calendar for free.

How often do you cage birds?


Today is June 30 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you cage birds?” Navigating the chaos and translating one dream after another into reality requires one to be free. The strategy of being free to pursue one’s dreams is essential to navigating the chaos. If one is caged, however, the pursuit of dreams becomes impossible. It is equally important for parents, spouses, friends, and managers to ask themselves what role they are playing in the caging of people in their life.


How we treat those who are with us along the journey matters. How we support the dreams of others we encounter along our path matters. How we encourage others, especially our children, to fly away matters. Recall the observation of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Today’s reflection reminds us that we need to be free and that we need to ensure the freedom of those in our life. Without freedom one will be unable to navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality.


Author Stephen King wrote “Some birds are not meant to be caged, that's all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So, you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much drabber and emptier for their departure.” Unfortunately, today’s helicopter parents often imprison their children by micromanaging every decision, dictate their schedules, and control their relationships. Childhood, starting at its earliest ages is now a race. But a race to where? And what is the prize? More importantly, who determines the prize?


A 2009 documentary entitled Race to Nowhere examines the lives of young people across the United States “who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their children.” To paraphrase a quote from Dr. Wendy Mogel, parents need to understand that it is their job to prepare children for the road, not to prepare the road for children. By preparing the road for the children do you understand that is a form of caging a child? A child needs to be free to fly on their own.


When a parent prepares a road doing so contradicts a child’s ability to engage in self-determination. Self-determination theory articulates performance, persistence, and creativity, arguably three critical skills everyone needs to succeed, are best fostered by an individual developing a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Another way of asking if you are caging any birds is for those in your life, how often do you spend helping them develop their sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness? Another way to think of self-determination comes from author Frank A. Clark who noted “The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.”


Think about Clark’s statement “the most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.” Are you? As a parent of a teenager especially, how are you approaching their development? What have you done lately to help your children get along without you? It’s a scary thought no doubt, but failure to do so could result in the child being caged long after the parent has died since the child was never taught to fly away on its own.


Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh wrote Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life and observed: “We really have to understand the person we want to love. If our love is only a will to possess, it is not love. If we only think of ourselves, if we know only our own needs and ignore the needs of the other person, we cannot love. We must look deeply in order to see and understand the needs, aspirations, and suffering of the person we love. This is the ground of real love. You cannot resist loving another person when you really understand him or her. Maybe a father does not have time or is not brave enough to ask his son such a question. Then the love between them will not be as full as it could be. We need courage to ask these questions, but if we don't ask, the more we love, the more we may destroy the people we are trying to love. True love needs understanding. With understanding, the one we love will certainly flower.”

  • How often do you imprison a bird meant to fly?

  • How often do you reflect upon the purpose of life and the need to be free or ensure the freedom of others?

  • Do you think you were ever (or perhaps still are) imprisoned but felt the need to fly? If so, what did you do about it or what can you do about it now?

  • If you are a parent do you ‘prepare your child/ren for the road of life or do you interfere and prepare the road for your child/ren?’

  • If you are a parent, how often do you remind yourself that ‘your most important job is to teach your child/ to get along without you?’

  • Do you find yourself caging some people in your life because you are afraid that if you set them free your life will be ‘that much drabber and emptier for their departure?’

  • How often do you remind yourself that ‘true love needs understanding. With understanding the one we love will certainly flower?’