Have You Ever Been A Bad Dog?
By Z Zoccolante
Here’s a story about Jack and Diane. Just kidding. Here’s a story about me and my dog Vega. It’s a story about how we speak to ourselves, and others, and how that can save our psyche.
In my life I’ve found, to my small dismay, that I’m often the adult in the room. Being an adult isn’t a problem because I do adult well. The problem lies in the fact that I want to mostly still be a kid.
One day last week I notice the trash, in my communal house, was overflowing. It felt like that episode of the Simpsons where the trash is stuffed full and each family member doesn’t want to be the one to overflow it and take it out so Bart staples a banana peel to the side of the pail. Watch it Here (begin it at 2:11) You won’t be disappointed ;))))
Well I took the trash bags out and then had to leave for dinner with a friend so I put them outside the back door hoping someone would take them around the house to our bins. Apparently my hope was too high. I came home and went to sleep. The next morning I returned from a work thing and there was my lovely dog standing in the backyard, overjoyed to see me, having ripped open the trash bag and trash was everywhere in the yard. EVERYWHERE!
As I muttered to myself, not unlike Homer, I picked up the dirty packages and food crap off the ground and shoved it into another garbage bag.
“No,” I told Vega. “No.” She hid behind the door and then followed me out in the backyard to watch me. “You see this. This is taking away from your time at the park,” I said throwing smelly, slimy avocado shells and rotten banana peels into the bag, trying to do it fast so I could take her to the park for a bit before I had a meeting to get to.
I continued around the yard as she cocked her head and looked at me, her tail wagging. “Bad dog,” I said and she looked away.
AND it was then that I caught myself as though someone had pushed over my teetering body onto the concrete. I heard out loud what I’d said and immediately followed it with,
“No. You’re a good dog. Bad choice. This was a bad choice. You’re a good dog, not a good choice. ”
Then I did my dog parenting thing because I don’t have, and don’t want, any kids of my own. “This is a bad choice. No one wins here. I have to clean this up and we both get less time at the park. You’re a very good dog and let’s not do this again ok. Let’s make a different choice.”
This also includes my different choice of taking the trash completely out from now on. (eye roll).
As I reframed this for my little love, she licked my face and shortly we went to the park, her as happy as ever.
I thought about this, about how quickly a lot of our immediate response to something is to label it as good or bad. How we label ourselves and other as good or bad.
But our goodness is innate. We are all good humans. I have yet to meet a client, in spite of many bad behaviors, that I can’t see the goodness in.
Behaviors are learned and thus can be unlearned if the person is willing. But that is what it is: Good people, bad behavior, bad choice. Good dog, bad behavior, bad choice.
I thought about my younger self and the viciousness with which I’d chastise her. There was no separation between me being good and making a bad choice because I didn’t have the tools to make a different one. If I did something bad I was bad. But that’s not the case anymore. It was a bad choice. I am still a good person. I adjust and learn and do it differently.
We all do the best with what we know at that time. All behavior, even bad, is motivated by a positive outcome. We want connection so we seek out a drug. We want to feel happy or loved so we engage in that unhealthy toxic relationship. We want positive things, we just don’t know how to get them in a positive way. Sometimes the result is negative, until we learn differently.
And still. Good person. Bad behavior. Good person. Bad choice.
Fantastic, loving, kind dog. Bad choice.
This week take a look at yourself and others around you. Use this shift in thinking to put on a different pair of metaphorical sunglasses and look through the world. Look at yourself, and others, through these new sunglasses. If you do this it will enhance your compassion for yourself and those around you.
We are all good.