Dogs at the Door
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Sometime in the last twenty thousand years or so, wolves decided to become dogs so they could hang around with people. No one knows what wolf did that first. And it didn't happen all at once. Of course, some wolves preferred to remain wolves. The people weren't offended. It wasn't personal.
There were lots of reasons that it was a good deal for people and dogs to hang out with each other. People were getting pretty good at finding food and sometimes that let the dogs off the hook when it came to finding their own food. The first free lunch. On the other hand, dogs can smell and hear better than people and so they could help people find and catch food. Dogs were also faster and fiercer than people so dogs helped to keep people safe. Dogs are better than guns because guns won't kiss you with big wet tongues.
Over the centuries dogs and people learned to cooperate in lots of ways. In the long run the deal has gone in the dogs' favor. As people got better at getting food and building things, dogs didn't have to work so much. Nowadays, most dogs are born into retirement. They have easy jobs like hanging around, eating, sleeping, and taste testing slippers. But they like us and we like them so we keep the old arrangement. And the dogs have not forgotten their old jobs altogether. They still protect us.
When someone comes to my door or walks by my house, my dogs go and yell at them. They say, "Don't come here or try to be in my yard or hurt my humans or I will eat your face." It doesn't matter to my dogs if the intruder is my five-year-old neighbor or a vicious axe murderer coming to visit. They treat all the same. They defend first and always. It's not personal. It's their job and no amount of reasoning or hollering on my part will have any effect at all.
If someone comes inside my house the picture changes completely. One of my dogs immediately welcomes the guest with wags and enthusiastic sniffs of the person's best smelling parts. My other dog is more skeptical of strangers. She lurks at a safe distance and growls a bit, but soon sniffs carefully and most always accepts the outsider.
I am tempted to think that I am a higher order of animal than my dogs. After all, I can drive, run a computer, make puns, and do lots of other stuff my dogs can't do. But on this point - reacting with defense - I confess I am just the same. I have the same emotional reaction they do, especially when I make a mistake. No matter how gently someone points out my error, my first reaction is to go into defense. The harsher the confrontation, the stronger the defense. I have a bigger cortex and more complicated vocal apparatus than my dogs so instead of just yelling, I explain, blame, minimize, justify, and even lie in order to avoid being seen as wrong. Of course, no one ever believes any of that. Sometimes I think I should give up the wordiness of my defenses and just bark - I should just make incomprehensible sounds so that my words don't mask my feelings. I feel shame and fear of being seen as an imperfect human being.
I don't think that will ever go away altogether. I think the best I can do is to realize that I have slipped over into defensiveness, decide to get out of it, and listen carefully to what the other is saying or review what has happened so that I can get reconnected to the truth. That is exactly the nature of being defensive. We sacrifice truth for safety. That can run so deep that the truth we sacrifice is reality. A few years ago I interviewed a man a few weeks after his involvement in a serious car crash. He was intoxicated and driving about 40 miles over the speed limit when he lost control of his car. A friend of his was in the car with him and was killed in the crash. The wreck happened on a clear, dry night and on a good stretch of highway. No other cars were involved. Needless to say, he was in a bunch of trouble. The insurance companies and lawyers and police all thought he might have made a big mistake. He was numb and not thinking clearly. He was changing reality to keep his mind safe. I told him that I thought that some people might think that he was responsible for his friend's death. I asked if he thought he was responsible. He said he thought that he might be a little bit responsible.
Killing another person is huge. Even when it is an accident or in the line of duty or in self defense - it is huge. Avoid it if you can. (Avoid law suits too, but that's another story.) Some people who have killed another person can't take it in all at once. They have to take it in a little bit at a time, the way you sip water when you have a bad sore throat. It hurts too much to gulp. I think we all sacrifice the truth and bend reality sometimes. I know that I do. I think its part of who we are. We bend reality to protect our wee, little egos. That just seems to be true.
When I notice that I am defensive it may take me a few minutes or longer to let that subside. I think that it takes time because my old, crazy, irrational belief that I must never be wrong or make a mistake runs very deep. But when I let myself become quiet and gradually open myself again to reality, my defenses quiet and I can get back to the truth.
So, I envy my dogs. They make the transition from defense to open acceptance easily, naturally, and rather quickly. Still, I can take a lesson from them. A good whiff of the real truth - that I can make mistakes and still be a worthy man - is often enough to put my mind at ease and restore my reality.
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