Last night, I read a thread on my neighborhood app that started out innocently. Someone mentioned that they had a negative experience while out walking. The poster explained that with social distancing in place, it would be helpful if neighbors could be more considerate about sidewalk space. So, for example, if you see someone approaching who is pushing a baby stroller while you are hanging out on the same sidewalk chatting with your neighbor across the street, please step aside to continue your conversation and allow the neighbor/stroller to pass by. Seems like a simple request, right?
Wrong. It turned into an emotion-fueled, angry dialogue with some people attacking the person who was asking for thoughtfulness. How dare that person infringe upon others’ rights to stand on this sidewalk! Why should THEY move, and not the one who has the ‘problem?’ However, in this situation, the one with the so-called problem was a mother walking with her child and dog, and they were all forced to go out into the street, avoid an oncoming car, and try to move around the person who was blocking the sidewalk.
Why the explosion of anger at a simple request? When people lash out at each other like this, I see it as coming from a place of fear. From the attacker's standpoint, if someone steps aside for another person, then they must be taking away the first person’s right to space, correct? And if it starts there, then what else on this dreaded slippery slope of compassion will we end up with? Empathy is downright DANGEROUS.
Dog trainers know that a common problem owners call them to solve is reactivity or aggression while the dog is out on walks. The terms reactivity versus aggression could be debated in their own blog, so for this purpose, I am using the term 'reactive' to mean a visual display of lashing out (i.e. barking, lunging).
Different dogs may become reactive to different stimuli. Some feel the impulse when seeing another dog. Some explode when seeing another person. I’ve even had owners tell me that their dog is racist and only reacts to white German Shepherds or black poodles.
However, when beginning to work with these types of dogs, trainers will often find that the reactive dog is fearful and not actually wanting to attack or kill its target. It is the rare canine who is truly walking the streets, in a predator mindset, and looking for its next victim.
We are about six weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown for many areas, and people’s emotions are running high as can be expected. This is a surreal experience, and while trying to practice this new normal behavior of social distancing, we are finding ourselves stressed, scared, and at times, like reactive dogs.
However, we can override our fears if we make the decision that we want to be different. Let’s acknowledge that we ALL have knee-jerk reactions to things. We all experience impulses of anger or frustration or fear when out in the world and are interacting with others. But if each of us has already made the internal decision that WE want to be someone who is seeking growth, harmony, and love, then we can conquer those impulses.
This is a personal decision that has to be made when you are alone with yourself reflecting upon who you want to be. If you wait until you’re in a difficult situation, then you will only be able to rely upon your automatic or default reactions. You will be the dog who sees its scary stimuli and has no other option but to bark, lunge, and become totally out of control.
Be the dog who got help. Be the dog who learned how to exist in a sometimes scary world without needing to lash out at everyone and everything.
(SIDE NOTE that now feels like its own example: I specifically left out the word “trigger” when describing being in a situation that creates personal impulses. Why? Because even that word has now become politicized, and it is based on fear! In today’s political and cultural climate, if you say that someone is “triggered,” then they must be a “snowflake,” meaning they must be a “liberal,” etc. Do you see the chain of reaction that someone can experience from JUST ONE WORD?
But if we step outside of our fears, then we can acknowledge that ALL humans, liberals and conservatives, have conditioned impulses, can be ‘triggered,’ and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Your real power lies in learning to understand your impulses and managing them. You do not have to guard them with your life and attack anyone who suggests otherwise.)
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