"The Watchbird"

Jan 29, 2016


Back when Cro-Magnon Man still was galumphing along, scraping his knuckles as he went, I enjoyed a feature in one of the magazines to which my mother subscribed. This feature was designed to improve the behavior of children and was called “This is a Watchbird Watching You.” Given how things have played out in government from then to now, this has proven to be fairly ominous. Back then though, I simply thought that it was interesting. Although designed to be educational to children in the area of deportment, I just liked looking at what I assumed other kids must be doing.  Certainly none of the correctional aspects applied to me! It caught my attention because the drawings were grabbers: they were cartoony and featured a bird peering out at me: the Watchbird. Each month the Watchbird would highlight some undesirable character trait of other children through crude line drawings and a bit of text describing the bad –yes, bad, not naughty—behavior, maybe something like being sneaky. Then, at the bottom of the page, in a large scrawl, would be the printed warning, “Don’t be a Sneaky” or whatever the Crime of the Month was. To see an example of this, look up “This is a Watchbird Watching You” on the internet. There’s a great picture of another negative trait, a “Squirmer” who looks rather like a robot experiencing an electric shock.

Reflecting on what developed into being thought of as the unenlightened Bad Old Days, I see that adults back then were not worried about damaging our fragile little egos by using negative words. Their interest was in getting us to shape up, no matter the means. In fact, damaging our fragile little egos probably would have been considered desirable as a means to the end of stamping out the sin of pride. So, the Watchbird hovered, ready to point out our failings and tell us how to become less of a detriment to society.

I include this prologue because my son told me a story where I think the hovering aspects of the Watchbird would have been useful. My son is, as contestants on television game shows say, employed by “a major U.S. airline,” and experienced a situation where even the Watchbird probably would have been too speechless to be censorious.   There had been a person on the flight who wasn’t feeling well throughout the trip. (Flight crews are aware of and watch for this sort of thing.) As the passengers were deplaning, this person, a man, dropped dead in the pedway. As you might guess, most of the passengers were horrified and quietly sat back in their seats. Not everyone though. One woman was incensed at the inconvenience this man was causing her and let it be known that she didn’t want to sit or to wait. She wanted to make her connection. How dare this gentleman thwart her plan? Having to roll her luggage over his dead body would have been an irritant, but apparently she was gung-ho to do so if it meant getting to her next plane. Now there’s someone who could have used people to offer her some negativity during her formative years: folks to explain to her that it wasn’t all about her. The flight crew did their best to play catch-up on this need and gently “forced” her to sit while the situation was resolved. It seems that in a crisis regulations are useful to overcome lack of sensitivity and decorum.

Surprisingly, to me anyway, the airlines have a protocol in place for situations of this sort. They have anticipated all kinds of bad outcomes, so it only took about 20 minutes for a coroner to come, pronounce the man dead and have people remove his remains so that the other passengers could proceed to the rest of their lives--perhaps aware that “The Watchbird is Watching You” and behaving accordingly.