Pearls of Strength

Have you ever been in awe of a swirling mass of starlings that flow in a myriad of shapes as they perform an airborne ballet together? It is called a murmuration of starlings. Some other birds fly together in V-shaped formations, but starlings dance in a spinning and swirling flow together in the sky. Murmuration, meaning low and continuous sounds, comes from starling-wing music when as many as 10,000 birds synchronize their moves.

Traveling through the Great Plains—Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma—in one day I saw 9 different starling murmuration configurations. Each one was captivating in its beauty. Starlings fly in close relationship with their flock mates for protection from predators and for warming. What our world needs today is people murmuration–a flock of folks who get vaccines together to protect ourselves from the pandemic predator. Peaceful bodies, free from viruses, are not about politics; peaceful bodies are about survival.

Norwegian Johan Galtung is considered to be the father of peace and conflict studies. The 91 year-old sociologist has Ph.D. degrees in both mathematics and sociology. He founded the Peace Research Institute Oslo in 1959 and the Journal of Peace Research in 1964. What is Galtung’s idea of peace? Peace means there is a relation between 2 or more entities which includes people, nations, regions, or civilizations.

If you think about it, relational interactions are everywhere you may look. Some relational interactions are peaceful; others are conflictual. Galtung considers how our social interactions have evolved from “primitive” times (hunters and gatherers) to agricultural societies to the modern industrial world. Relations shifted, becoming more hierarchical and even impersonal, as these changes occurred.

We are missing out if we do not care about the personal best from each person. We need each person’s  flow in the flock. “Flow” is a concept proposed by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, a sense of flow is defined as a presence, a state in which you are so involved in some activity that you are entirely focused. One might assume that health and survival would be good focus options. Flow activities do not have to involve a competition or a masterful piece of art, although these experiences do involve a flow mentality. Csikszentmihalyi’s research found that a person’s skill can develop best when they reach an intersection between their skill level and challenge. A sense of flow can be a struggle, as challenges often are difficult.

What might happen to the strength of countries if we engaged in peaceful dialogues about our conflicts? Is your flow tank full? It is a possibility that we could be a people of murmuration, flowing together to resolve the weighty issues of life.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

38. When have you felt a sense of flow in your life?

39. What dialogues might you have with another that could move both of you in positive directions?

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.


  1. Oh Jan! I was given the gift of Murmuration yesterday! Eating at a local restaurant with a couple of friends, I suddenly found myself on the floor with a Flock and Flow of people around me. Someone put a coat under my head, another a cool towel on my forehead, one person identified herself as a nurse, and a strange tall gentleman fanning over the top of caregivers! Probably 10 or more people I did not know flowed over to care for me, a stranger to them. It Brings tears of joy to my eyes just thinking about it. I pray that I will also be as kind to strangers.


  2. Yes, that was a protective flock of folks with you! I am so glad that you were in such good company. Another caring-for-others example is the kindness shown to survivors of the tragic tornados over last weekend. The saying, “strength in numbers,” is true when considering murmuration.


  3. Wonderful post Jan! Your writing is very hopeful, a refreshing change from so much negativity that is present lately! Thank you for such a positive message!


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