If you’ve followed my blog for a long time, you know I love our dogs. Typically I refer to them just because they’re a fun diversion. But yesterday I learned once again an important lesson from one of our dogs.
Yesterday morning we were on the usual morning walk. I felt a little cranky, I confess, because it was drizzling and the dogs were doing their usual thing: stopping every fifth step to sniff something. Then I turned and realized that Hoku ala, our younger dog, had his mouth full (and bursting) with the half-decayed remains of a dead bird.
At that moment the other two characters in the drama—Stella, our eight-year-old sovereign dog, and me—reacted in quite different ways. Stella’s reaction was, well, highly adaptive and functional: she glanced over, saw what was going on, and went back to her business. (She’s old enough now, and mellow enough, that she feels no strong need to possess what the younger dog has in his mouth.) My reaction: apoplexy, of course. OMG you’re going to die!!! I went crazy. I know better than to shake him—I have never physically harmed our dogs—but I wanted to shake that bird out of his mouth. I wanted to pry his jaws open (I wisely avoided this as well). Faced with no practical way to stop the behavior, I basically just yelled and carried on. I’m sure it was an entertaining scene.
There’s not a huge moral to this story…it’s mostly just an absurd little scene from my everyday life. But it did remind me of the all-too-human habit of over-reacting to the misguided behaviors of others. Hoku is a dog, so the chances were better than even that he’d be fine, that his stomach would process the bird carcass without fuss. But there was also a chance that he wouldn’t be fine. God knows what kind of poison or contaminant might be lurking in the dead bird. (What killed it, anyway??) Dogs can injure themselves by ingesting things that they shouldn’t. I wasn’t completely irrational in my reaction.
But I did no one (least of all myself) any favors by flipping out. And there are times when I am tempted to do this with humans. Sometimes clients will make decisions I think are going to get them into trouble, or lead to something they’ll sorely regret. But sometimes it’s not my job to say so. It’s not my job to take away their agency, their own control over their lives, even if that control gets them into jams. I’ve made enough major mistakes in my life to know that mistakes are supposed to be a part of my life story. They teach me lessons, and they give me vital information about myself.
So I keep practicing the art of under-reacting to the alarming behaviors of others. I tell myself, slow down, take it easy. You think they’ll live to regret this, and maybe you’re right. But maybe that’s just an interesting chapter in their life story.
And how’s Hoku? Oh, he’s fine. Crazy little monster.