The Clark’s Grebe is a water bird with a curious mating ritual. When a female grebe thinks she might like to see what the male has to offer, she invites him for a walk. But this isn’t just any romantic walk, it’s…well, it’s a walk on water.
With incredible coordination and perhaps even greater concentration, the two birds will “walk” across water together for up to 66 feet. Okay, so this isn’t just a walk, it’s more of a dead-on sprint. But it is really quite fascinating. Research shows that in order for the Clark’s grebe to “walk” on water, the bird must make up to 20 steps per second! (In contrast, humans can only take between 3-6 steps per second).
After this incredibly astounding feet, the birds move on to a more elegant courtship ritual–the “weed” dance. The two birds will gather weeds from the bottom of the pond and bring them to each other. They will examine the offerings, gracefully arch their necks in unison, and then rub the weeds across their own backs in a give-and-take expression of attraction. Indeed, it looks as though they are performing the waltz.
While watching a video clip of the Clark’s Grebe mating ritual, I could not help but think that this would not be possible without a method of communication. Speeding across the water at break-neck speeds is never safe in a crowded pond, even if you are racing along beside your beloved mate. And twisting and turning and dipping your neck this way and that doesn’t look very graceful if you are off by a few beats.
This made me think about human relationships. Sure, we might not be able to walk on water, or ever get our feet moving faster than three steps per second, but we can work on our communication skills to ensure a graceful–or at least respectful–dance between husband and wife.
One of the things that I think is most important about effective husband and wife communication is respect.
Take those birds, the Clark’s Grebes, for example. There is no way I can imagine a male of any species picking up weeds and rubbing them across his back hoping to attract a mate unless he really respects her. Can you?
Well, let’s put it this way: if you asked a random guy on the street to take out your garbage, what do you think he would say?
It’s highly likely that he would probably look at you a little cock-eyed and shuffle off in the opposite direction.
For those birds, however, they really are asking a complete stranger to do the dance of love, with a little speed-walking on the side.
Okay, so let’s revisit the garbage scenario again.
I really hate to take out the garbage, and as a youth, I would only do this job because I respected my dad. It wasn’t my first choice in chores, if you must know. I would have much rather cleaned a toilet. But I did it because I knew that if I did not, I would not receive my allowance, or I might not be going to the dance on the weekend. Two things that I would have much rather done over taking out the garbage or cleaning out the toilets.
Well, fast forward to the married years. If my husband asks me to take out the garbage, I don’t really have to do it. There is nothing that he can take away from me if I do not follow through with his request. My allowance will stay in tact, and there aren’t really any dances I am looking forward to attending.
But what will happen if I say “no”, or appear to forget?
It is more than likely that I will be communicating a message to my spouse that I am entirely unaware of sending–that of disrespect.
All right, hold that thought.
COMING DOWN FROM THE PEDESTAL
Communication is a two way street. We show respect for our spouse–our love–when we allow for honest and clear communication. How we communicate with each other can be an indicator of the strength of our relationship. If we are no longer willing to hear or respect one another, how nurturing is our relationship?
I have this hypothesis that it is natural to automatically reject what someone else is saying. We view the world from our own pedestal–”to each his own” is a common phrase heard nowadays. This idea was clearly illustrated to me in what I have come to lovingly term as the grilled-cheese fiasco of 2003.
As a newly married wife, I offered to make grilled cheese sandwiches for my husband one night after a long day of college studies and work. I pulled out a pan, some bread and butter, and cheese. I slathered both sides of the bread, slapped on a cheese slice, and fried that sucker up. When my husband came into the kitchen to see what the smell was, I was looking forward to a smile. But I received a confused expression instead.
“Those are not grilled cheese sandwiches. I thought you were making grilled cheese sandwiches!”
I thought I was too…
To my husband, a grilled cheese sandwich was something else entirely. It involved toasting the bread in the toaster, turning on the oven , and then putting said toast on a cookie sheet with a slice of cheese open-faced.
How was I to know?! (In all seriousness).
This sparked an interesting discussion that I can’t quite remember the details of, but knowing us, I am sure it was lively.
But to do you get my point? Two people coming from two different grilled-cheese worlds.
BECOMING ACTIVELY ENGAGED
And this is why I believe that if left to ourselves, we would just interpret life as it pertains to us. But if we are married, we don’t get that luxury. And so we have to learn how to really communicate.
Really communicating means that we must respect the other individual, as well as actively engage ourselves in the process.
Respecting someone else’s discourse means that you will hear what they have to say and ponder their point of view.
Actively engaging in the communication process means that we make an effort to listen, interact, ponder, respond, paraphrase, commit, and be responsible.
I think this form of communication is best summed up by a scripture found in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 3:19:
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child:
full of love
willing to submit to all things …”
Just as I discussed above, it is natural to not want to cede one’s place in the pecking order. We want to be the one on top. But in a relationship, we cannot show love for one another if we are not willing to embrace another’s soul. The words we speak are an expression of our hopes, dreams, desires. When we engage in the conversation, and open ourselves to a new possibility of awareness, we are also opening our own soul up.
BUILDING SOMETHING THAT LASTS
We should be aware that communication does not stop when the actual conversation is over. It continues through our body language and actions. How we behave after the conversation is probably an even great indicator of whether or not we listened to what was being said than any of the words we shared when we actually talked.
By following through with what was agreed upon, we show to our partner how we respect and love them.
I am not suggesting here that if we do not take out the garbage after we have been asked, that we do not love our spouse. I am suggesting, however, that we are failing to create an opportunity to show respect and develop a bond of trust with our partner.
Because, isn’t that what we are trying to do? We are trying to build a foundation that lasts. And we do that with our words and our actions. If we are not reliable, the foundation of our relationship will not be reliable either. There may be love, but there will not be respect.
Love is not just a word we say to each other at night before we go to sleep. It is an action that must be shown again and again in order for it to continue to grow. The building blocks we have been given are our very words and deeds.
ON BIRDS AND FINAL THOUGHTS
When I think about the Clark’s Grebe birds, I think about communication and action. I see two individuals who want to create a firm foundation-they want to continue on the future of their species. I do not know how love factors into the animal kingdom, but I do know this: these animals respect one another enough to perform a mating ritual as old as time. I see two animals that will go through painstaking coordinated actions– like digging up weeds and rubbing them on their bodies. I see two animals taking part in the extraordinary physical feet of walking on water just to attract a mate.
These animals are putting energy and respect into their relationship right from the start. And I think we should take away a lesson or two. This communication stuff, it really is for the birds. And it can be, and should be, for us humans too.
Jessica Clark is a wife, mom, writer, runner, knitter, and proud Canadian. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Anthropology, and has been a student of people and cultures ever since. Right now she is busy studying the behavior and cultures of the people of Texas.