Pigeons & Doves

Our family has made it to Spain – a trip we’ve been planning for five years. I spent two summers in Spain in high school, living with my aunt’s family. I returned for ten days to stay with family when I left the cruise ship after college and my husband and I came here on our honeymoon twenty years ago. Bringing our girls was a dream of ours.

One city in which I spent a summer is Cordoba and we are here now. The AirBnB in which we are staying is across the street from La Mezquita and a block up from the river. When we arrived, our host asked that we not leave the doors to the patio open without the screen down as the pigeons would happily come in. There are many pigeons! I’ve been listening to them as I sit here reading this morning.

Yesterday we visited the Alcazar and read about the Tower of Doves. Again, there were many birds all around. The four of us debated if the birds were doves or pigeons. Not one of us had any significant knowledge about this question so the debate was not terribly productive. Upon return to our flat I decided to do a little research on the question. I was quite surprised to learn that there is no real distinction between them. They are both members of the columbidae family of birds. There are many ways people have distinguished between them, but they are not consistent. I was shocked (and my family felt the same when I shared this with them).

Pigeon or dove? Nestled in the wall of the Alcazar in Cordoba, Spain.

Our daughters and I started thinking of instances in which doves or pigeons are well-known and changing which one is mentioned. “New York is overrun with doves!” “One of Aphrodite’s symbols is a pigeon!” “A pigeon of peace!”

It was fascinating how much that one change shifted our thinking. How different does it feel to think of NYC as having many doves than as having many pigeons? Doesn’t it feel odd to think of Aphrodite as having pigeons?

Those words are filled with images and feelings in us as we hear them. That is true of labels. It’s one of the reasons we use them. We label things so that we understand what they are. Labels carry weight for us.

This is true whether those labels are on birds or on children.

We label children with official labels:  English Language Learner, Special Education, etc.

We label children with unofficial labels: well-behaved, challenging, defiant, sweet, rambunctious, etc.

We share those labels with others, both in official ways and in the teachers’ lounge or on the playground. We use the labels with genuine affection and in frustration. Those labels impact how others see that child.

We keep those labels to ourselves. This impacts how we see that child.

I won’t argue that we should stop labeling children (or birds, for that matter). I don’t believe that’s possible. I do think we need to be aware of the labels we use and how we use them. Calling a child a pigeon implies many things. We need to remember that.

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