In this age of globalization, where every event, news, story travels thousands of miles at the speed of thought, we are confronted with new ideas, possibilities and innovations every minute. But at times, there comes along a book, an article, a happening, which makes us sit back and think. It makes us wonder about the meaning of our lives and what we want to achieve. Such a piece of writing is “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. In this novella, Richard Bach presents his philosophy of life and how it should be lived.
The book revolves around Jonathan Livingston. All seagulls believe that the only purpose of life is to eat in order to survive. According to them, flying is only a means to this end. You need to learn how to fly in order to be able to fight for food with the other gulls. According to Jonathan, on the other hand, flying is the bigger or rather the only purpose of life. He spends all his time learning about new flying techniques, in the hope of achieving perfection. The rest of the flock judges this behavior to be unacceptable and he is banned from the flock, for bringing shame upon them. Jonathan accepts his life as an outcast, and continues to practice flying. Repeated
practice, an unwavering spirit, and continued effort teach him a lot. With each new skill, he challenges what he has learnt before. One day, he is taken by a group of gulls to a higher plane of existence, where he meets gulls with similar motivations. All the gulls here are engaged in active pursuit of perfection, as they work hard to master the art of flying. Jonathan Livingston learns that all gulls are free and he is only limited by his thoughts. He befriends the wisest gull in this new place, named Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the universe. The secret, Chiang says, is to “begin by knowing that you have already arrived”. Not satisfied with his new life, Jonathan now returns to
Earth to teach others like him. He spreads his love for flight and gathers a dedicated group who are as passionate about flying as him. He further goes back to his old flock and with the help of his new students, illustrates his meaning in life. This inspires more gulls to leave the flock and to be a part of this new group, which strives for selfperfection. Jonathan nominates his first student, Fletcher, as the new leader and leaves to continue upon his path of learning and to help more gulls by showing them the way to a more meaningful life. All this helps him understand the meaning of love and leads him to his true destiny.
Jonathan Livingston stays true to what he believes in. He knows what he wants from life, and he works hard at it. Even though he is left all alone to fend for himself, rendered an outcast, he does not submit to the norms of society. According to him, his beliefs are more important than anything else in the world. And he has the courage to live by them. There is a famous saying, ”What would a man gain if he sells his soul”.
In the book, Jonathan exhibits a hunger for learning, a passion to excel. He wants to learn more and more each day. For him, flying presents a million different possibilities and he wishes to explore them. Without worrying about the consequences, and even at the cost of his life, he keeps trying, in order to learn more, in order to reach where he must. Jonathan Livingston is not willing to accept defeat. In the beginning, when he experiments with speed flying, he understands that there is something he is not doing right. But, he also accepts that sooner or later he will get it right.
Once he learns all the techniques of flight and fulfillment, Jonathan realizes that he wishes to share them with the rest of the flock. As a result, he comes back to the flock he has been banished from and takes some students under his wing, in order to empower and teach them all he knows. Despite all that he achieves, Jonathan Livingston is portrayed as a very humble being, who wants to share what he knows, but does not wish to be given any extra credit for it, or to be held in high esteem because of this. According to him, he is living his true destiny and being what he is, what he needs to be. This does not call for any reverence or any special treatment by others. Life is not just about being recognized, or achieving things valued by society. It is about living the way you wish to life, it is about working for what matters to you, and what you want to achieve.