LIFE LESSONS FROM THE DOG PARK
My sweet dog, Gabby, has been nipping at the heels of my new roommate. It’s about all social order, you see. Dogs need to know where they stand in a pack. When Gabby and I recently moved in with a friend, my dog started to stake out her ground.
For the first few months Gabby and I were together, we had quite a battle going on. She wanted to sleep in my bed, eat my food and be me (except for the going to work part). Many of our arguments ended with me calling a friend to say, “That dog is crazy. She is going back to pound.”
As we learned each other's ways I was able to put her actions into context. Our relationship benefited as we gained cultural literacy and I learned how to lead. Every pack needs someone to follow who is firm, dependable and courageous. It took a while for me to grow into the role.
My new roommate has been bending over backward to be polite to Gabby, which is a very human response. Gabby takes this kindness as a sign of weakness. So she has been jockeying to move higher in the pack. If she can’t be lead dog, then perhaps it's best to be second in command.
As this scenario plays out in my household, a similar drama unfolds on the national scene. Since the election of President Barack Obama, the social order has been turned upside down, inside out. For decades, written and unwritten laws told us where we stood. “If you are black, get back. If you are brown, stick around. If you are white, you are alright,” or so I was told as a child. Even though my parents told me I was equal, there was a constant struggle trying to convince that little voice inside of my head that I was as good as anyone else.
With the election of President Barack Obama, some Americans are grieving – not because their candidate lost – but because they fear a change in the social order. Our pack has a new leader and the adjustment is harder for some.
So we must prepare for some social misbehavior and acting out, just as I am seeing now with Gabby. There will be those like Texas Gov. Rick Perry who will try to divide this country with their talk of secession. There will be those like Chuck Norris who talk of a coming “second American revolution”. There will be hate groups and extremists who write stuff that would make their pastors blush on the Internet – and post personal attacks that remind us why our forefathers wisely created rule by laws that protect us from men (and women) temporarily gone wild.
Let me share just one of the many postings I found this week (on the Web site of a major metropolitan newspaper) and it was not the worst one:
“The political problems facing America are endemic. Until the Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, Hispanics, Asians, homosexuals and other sorted undesirables are banned, the country will continue to exist as a sewer state. No amount of protests or tea party nonsense will change those facts. Tea parties are not the solution for what ails civilization. A Hitler-style cleansing movement is.”
For those who still aren’t convinced our flank is exposed, check out the April 2009 report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warning of a growing threat to this country from the armed rightwing extremists. As cities are buying back guns and trying to take them off the streets, supremacists and domestic terrorists are stockpiling assault weapons and ammunition like fruits and vegetables.
At present, diversity groups and organizations are filled with gentle people who want to figure out how to get along and give others equipment to play together well in neighborhoods and workplaces, which are the human equivalents to dog parks. They help us to reduce fights and stop newcomers from coming under attack, both noble goals.
While they, and I, were busy working, singing and holding hands in the dog park, all heck broke loose out in the real world. The people who feel unsettled in this new world began using the newspaper Web sites to recruit domestic terrorists. Homeland Security says they have begun recruiting ex-military who are trained in combat. They are infecting our public domain and airwaves with hate. Homeland Security is telling us that the "white supremacist lone wolves" and "small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology" have emerged as a major terrorism threat.
Ok, time to open the gate to our dog park. Time to meet the hate groups on their turf cause they are never going to come to us.
Let’s take all the lessons learned and all the ideas collected from 40 years of conversations right to the right-wingers and engage them in a dialog that seeks to address the fears that drive them. We need to hear them out. We need to engage them in conversations on their Web sites. We need to respond firmly and bravely instead of ignoring or downplaying their rantings. They must be held to account for the false information and lies they are spreading on sites where children gather. Ignoring them is no longer an option.
I could let Gabby nip at the heels of my new roommate and explain her behavior away by suggesting that she has been through a lot lately. Or I can say, firmly and calmly, each time she struggles for supremacy: “Stop!”
Any dog owner will tell you, ignoring bad behavior eventually will cost you.