Dogs Can Teach Us a Lot

We have two black labs. Ten year old Stella is crippled and eleven year old Macy is blind. They’re both the most loving dogs we’ve ever had. Each has their challenges but they’re doing the best they can. Stella had a hip surgery several years ago and has an enlarged knee with arthritis. She has a funny little waddle when she walks. Macy has always been pretty healthy, but developed a sight problem about 4 years ago and has very limited sight now. She wants to spend as much time inside now as she can. She walks very cautiously and bumps into a lot of things throughout the day. Both approach life with many similarities but with some very specific differences.

As my wife and I live with them, we both agree they have been a blessing to us, but do require different types of interaction. I recently began thinking about how similar I can be to both dogs. Like Macy, there are topics that I could probably navigate through in conversation with someone, but limited knowledge would make me hesitant and cautious. A blind spot on the topic would leave me feeling a bit paralyzed or set me up for crashing into someone with a viewpoint that may cause hurt feelings or even break the relationship. I also sense that others may experience the same potential negative engagement, but it doesn’t keep them from saying whatever pops in their head without much regard to how it may be received. As I have the opportunity to engage lots of people in this role, I frequently hear statements from people that are clearly coming from a blind spot. If someone has never experienced abundant resources or the lack of resources, it may seem to be a simple subject that should have a quick and simple conclusion. It is neither. Judgement about others is very easy to express and hard to retract. We can and do teach it to our children whether it’s intentional or not.

Like Stella, I may have my sight intact, but struggle with mobility and pain. I may be resentful of what I see going on around me when it feels like everyone else is getting ahead and I’m missing out. I may assume that people are taking shortcuts to gain an unfair advantage at my expense because they are just unwilling to work as hard as necessary. The real question may be more about whether I’m willing to try harder than how other people are progressing. Maybe I’m trying to justify my own poor work ethic to explain my limited upward mobility. Work ethic is a very interesting topic for conversation. Everyone I’ve met has a viewpoint on what work ethic means and can cite examples of both good and poor ones they’ve encountered.  Someone once told me that my work ethic is what I am willing to do when no one is watching. Work ethic is also something we teach our children whether intentional or not. I see what appears to be both good and poor examples of work ethic that really don’t have much relevance to how much money a person has or how much they may be struggling to make ends meet, but without facts can potentially lead me to judgement.

Just as dogs love unconditionally, I know I’m called to do that as well. I’ve never experienced a day that our dogs didn’t lavish love over me when I get home. Dogs have figured out a way to keep life simple and uncluttered. Granted, they don’t have to figure out a way to improve the bottom line for their investors or shorten the line of need in their community, but they can and do bring joy to the people they are with and that’s an example from which we can all learn.

 by Tim Kean