Lessons From Horton Hatches The Egg (Dr. Seuss)
“I meant what I said and I said what I meant.”
― Dr. Seuss, Horton Hatches The Egg
Horton Hatches the Egg
Like many people, I grew up reading Dr. Seuss books and learned many lessons from them, unbeknownst to me at the time. One of Dr. Seuss’s books (among many) is Horton Hatches the Egg. It is the story of an elephant named Horton who offers to babysit a nest for a “momma” bird. He sits on the nest in a tree for 51 weeks because he wanted to keep his promise to the momma bird. The momma bird never returns, but the egg in the nest eventually hatches into an “elephant” bird (read the story). It is a story of love, devotion, and dedication.
During the 51 weeks, Horton faces all kinds of obstacles and reasons not to stick with the plan, but he refuses to give up. He made a promise to the momma bird and he is not going to go back on his promise.
This is an interesting story for all. The main theme of the story is one of faithfulness and one could even say duty.
In his book entitled Toughen Up, author and former Canadian Armed Forces Elite Operations member, Claude Hamilton discusses Duty as one of eight strengths necessary for leadership. From his military perspective, he discusses the foundation of the word and strength of duty. In a world where we are very quick to claim our rights, we may very well have forgotten the other side of the coin which is responsibility or duty. Throughout history, duty has been honored and expected.
“Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.” – George Washington
In historical Europe, there was the concept of noblesse oblige, which meant that it was the duty of the aristocracy to take care of and protect the people (whether this actually happened is another story). Today, at least in North America, we hold to the idea that we all have a role to play in society as citizens. Every society is different in how they view the role of duty.
But Claude Hamilton introduces a new twist on culture. He talks about a culture of convenience and a culture of excellence. He says:
“You can’t faithfully serve convenience and excellence. You can’t serve two masters. You can do a little of both, but ultimately, one of those cultures is going to rule your life.”
Every day we are faced with choices. We can take an easy, comfortable way or we can take the hard and often sacrificial way. We can do what is convenient for us or we can go the extra mile, pay the price. It is easy to settle and live a comfortable existence and ignore our responsibilities to others, to our community, to our nation. In fact, each time we think and act in this broader perspective we allow ourselves to grow stronger and lead more purposeful lives.
Horton Was Faithful
In Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton had given his word and stayed faithfully in the nest because that was the right thing to do, regardless of the decision of the momma bird to abandon her baby. Horton chose excellence over convenience. He could easily have made all kinds of excuses and convinced himself that he had done his part, But what would have happened to the baby bird? Horton had a role to play and he played it to the end.
People often say that life needs to be balanced and to some degree, it does, but as Claude Hamilton writes, we can not use the word balance as an excuse to avoid hard work or hard choices. It is really a matter of where we place our focus. When it is time to hang back and enjoy family and friends, go for it! But life is a tough ride and the tougher we become through making tough decisions and doing what is right, the easier life is for us.
It is not just about us. Imagine a whole society of people wanting to live a life of convenience, claiming their rights, but ignoring their social responsibilities. What would that look like? When we do not pull our own weight, we let others down. we share space in our communities for a reason.
” Citizens have three overreaching duties which are: cares, functions, and loyalties.”
Voting or jury duty are functions. Cares would imply that we should care about the right things as citizens (and not give in to distractions) and we should maintain our loyalties (priorities) and keep them straight. Even as individual citizens we should keep in mind that we are responsible for helping our society long term.
Horton Was a Team Player
He was not in it for himself, but for the benefit of others. He knew that if he didn’t step up to the plate, maybe the little bird would be sacrificed (maybe eaten by another animal). Someone had to do it. someone had to think beyond themselves and their own convenience. He did it to help the momma bird out. Even when she bailed out, Horton was still on the team and still playing the game.
“Duty gives us a compass, a map, a ruler by which to judge our lives.” (p. 106) Duty or responsibility to others is a framework, a structure that keeps our lives on course. We are not here just for ourselves; we are here to serve.
“I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that is my duty…. This is my highest and best use as a human.” – Ben Stein
Knowing our purpose, our reason for being and doing gives us confidence. It excites us and motivates us to get up each day with new strength. It is no longer about what we have to do but becomes: how can we use this day to benefit others? The new question is: will I do all in my power to live right, do right and speak right even when it is inconvenient, even when it is uncomfortable and even when it is unpopular?
Horton Could Have Caved In
It would have been so easy for Horton to give up. What self-respecting elephant wants to sit in a tree for 51 weeks when he could be hanging out with the herd? He could have superficially defined his promise and made it conditional on not being hungry, tired or fed up. He could have listened to those who laughed at him or called him crazy. He could have listened to their “reasonable” arguments to “come down from the tree.” It would have been so easy to do. But Horton knew why he was doing it. He had a purpose outside of himself. Doing the right thing is not always convenient and it is not always comfortable. But it is the right thing.
Some final words from Claude Hamilton:
“We need a wholesale return to the concept of duty. We need to talk about it more and do more to serve others. Most of all we need to know our life purpose, understand that it is our duty to achieve it…… Duty matters and our generation needs to do our duty at a much higher level.”
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Diana Lynne loves to travel, pursue self-improvement and debt-free life. She also loves hanging out with family, friends and her dog Skye. You can connect with her through livingandstuff.ca