The Goose That Became a Fish

A barnacle goose is a lovely black and white goose which lives on remote islands in the Arctic. The birds winter in the British Isles and the Netherlands. Because they were not seen in summer, legends grew that they hatched from barnacles and spent some of their lives under water, or that they grew from water logged fir timbers; first as tree sap then developing a shell in which to grow, from which the grown goose would burst out and fly away. These stories were bolstered by persons who claimed to have seen these birds fall from the trees with their own eyes.

Improbable as it may seem to you today, back in the 1100’s Irish priests declared that the barnacle goose, being more fish than fowl, could be eaten on “fast days” and during Lent. This result was a wonderful example of what we do when we want something that we think is not the right thing to do. We rationalize it into existence. We explain our conduct by an improbable and illogical construct which gains power the more we repeat it. And it continues on until we actually believe our crazy statements. Too often we convince the ones we love the most that we are speaking the truth. Not because, they would believe anything close to our lies if they came from a stranger, but because they want to believe our lies, because they come from us.

Don’t be misled by your desires to think your lies are true. Everyone else knows a lie when they hear it, and your carefully constructed fabrication will fall apart when it comes under any kind of scrutiny. Rabbi Tam (1100-1170) required the barnacle geese to be slaughtered as required by Kosher laws for slaughtering fowl. And back in 1215 Pope Innocent III recognized a rationalization when he heard it. Diplomatically, or more probably so as not to get bogged down by details, the Pope didn’t dispute how the goose was born. The Pope told the Irish priests to leave the geese be on fast days and Lent. If it walks like a goose, acts like a goose, and honks like a goose, it’s a goose.

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