The reason that no one can ever really change has to do with the fact that we’re all genetic beings and, for better or worse, we’re stuck with the DNA that we were given. The same is true of dogs though it’s much easier for us to accept the genetic limitations of a dog than it is to accept the genetic limitations of ourself.
We humans are the only creatures on Earth who can willfully change themselves. Since dogs don’t have the ability to consciously change themselves, they have no choice but to live out their lives as the dog they were born to be. Consequently, dogs never try to be something that they’re not (which is one of the reasons why we love them so much!) We humans adore the fact that dogs are always in the moment and that they never regret the past or fear the future. Any fear a dog experiences is reserved for the here and now and, once the fear has passed, the dog is over it until the next fearful situation presents itself. That’s in contrast to humans who spend large chunks of their lives brooding over what happened in the past and what might happen in the future.
Since dogs just “are,” they’re completely unaware of any “faults” that they may have. In fact, humans are the ones who decide what’s a “fault” and we’re the ones who point of it out to the dog. If our input was removed, dogs would simply be who they are and do what they do. There’s no pretending with a dog. And, even though dogs have expectations (such as being fed and being taken out for a walk) and certain needs (for food, shelter and companionship), they’re never tormented by failed hopes and broken dreams.
The very trait that allows a dog to live such a pure and authentic existence is the same trait that limits it: the fact that dogs can only live in the moment. As dogs can’t evaluate or critique themselves like humans do, they’re incapable of consciously changing themselves. Any change in a dog’s behavior is always the result of a reaction to its environment (such as a human who scolds it!)
Though it’s extremely difficult for a genetic being to change itself, humans can at least try. And, sometimes, with lots and lots of work and lots and lots of determination, we might actually be able to alter certain aspects of our genetic self.
For example, imagine that I was a person who was born with such a sensitive temperament that I wasn’t able to be around loud noises, bright lights or rooms crowded with people. To ever overcome such a debilitating sensitivity, I’d first have to consciously decide that I want to change. Change won’t happen if I don’t want to change. The second thing that I’d need to do is figure out how to sustain the motivation and determination needed to bring about the change I want. Last but not least, I’d have to actually make the change. Only if these three things occur will I ever have the possibility of change: 1. Deciding to change 2. Sustaining my motivation and determination 3. Making the change.
Ultimately, our capacity to change is a function of our individual temperament. That’s why certain of us are going to have a harder time changing as compared to others. Logically, individuals who have an easy temperament will have an easier time changing than those individuals who have a difficult or slow-to-warm-up temperament.
Just as with people, there’s a dramatic difference between the easy dogs and the dogs that aren’t so easy: those with a difficult or slow-to-warm-up temperament. Throughout my long career as a veterinarian, I think I’ve experienced the entire spectrum of various temperaments in dogs: from dogs that are an absolute joy to those that are a nightmare. In fact, there have been so many skittish and ill-tempered dogs over the years that it’s all become a bit of a blur. But, there are a few that I’ll never forget.
One such dog was a giant, un-neutered Rottweiler that had once been brought into my clinic for a rabies shot. Simple enough, I’d thought at the time until I walked into the room and a little voice inside my head whispered, “Oh oh.” This enormous dog was standing stock still in the middle of the room like some kind of statue except that his eyes were following every move I made. He looked like a tiger that had spotted his dinner and I was the tasty gazelle! That dog was trouble with a capital “T.”
As a twinge of fear traveled up the back of my neck, I realized that this was not going to be a routine rabies shot. The dog (probably picking up on my fear by now) made sure that I understood the gravity of the situation by lifting his lip enough for me to his giant pearly whites while a growl long and low reverberated up my spine. I’d gotten his message loud and clear: “Don’t even think about touching me, Doc!”
Most vets, when faced with a potentially biting dog (especially a large biting dog), prefer to err on the side of caution and muzzle the dog. With the way that the Rottweiler was staring and growling at me, I asked the owner if he would mind muzzling the dog as a precaution. The owner took the muzzle from me and turned to face his dog. The dog had still not moved a muscle though he did shift his eyes from me to the muzzle. I could feel the tension pouring off but the dog did allow his owner to pat his head and kneel down beside him. But, the moment the owner tried to slip the muzzle over the dog’s nose, the dog went nuts tossing his basketball-sized head back and, in the process, knocking over all the chairs in the room and upending the trash can. The owner took after the dog like a linebacker chasing a loose ball: trying to get his hands on him and screaming for the dog to stop. All the while, the man’s wife was yelling at the man to quit chasing the dog, that he was freaking the dog out even more. It was insane.
The owner finally gave up and, as soon as the dog wasn’t being chased, he stopped running (just as the man’s wife had said!) While the man and dog stared at one another huffing and puffing, I picked up the muzzle and threw it in the sink. Clearly, no one was getting a muzzle on this dog.
The next restraint technique in my bag of tricks had always worked quite well in the past whenever I’d had an overly scared or cantankerous dog that didn’t want to be touched. I always enjoyed the look of amazement and appreciation on the owner’s face when I was able to handle a completely freaked out dog by simply covering the dog in a towel or blanket. Just swaddling a dog with a towel can help to calm it down in and of itself but it seems what helps the most is the dog not being able to see what’s going on. If a dog can’t see what’s been done to it, the dog’s simply not going to be as afraid. It’s what I call the “see no evil, fear no evil” method of restraint: the same principle involved when a horse needs to have its head covered before it will allow itself to be led out of a burning barn.
I had my doubts, though, as to whether it was going to work with this particular dog. Yet, I felt we needed to give it a try so I went and retrieved the biggest blanket that we had at the clinic. As I couldn’t get even close to the dog, I asked the owner to see if he could cover the dog with the blanket. The owner took the blanket and tried to hide it behind his back. Walking slowly towards the dog, the owner kept saying, “Good boy, good boy.” The dog clearly wasn’t buying it because his eyes looked as if they might bug right out of his head! Still, he allowed the owner to approach him with the blanket trailing behind. I was momentarily optimistic that the dog might go for it but that thought immediately flew out the window the instant the owner touched the dog with the blanket. Again, the dog went ballistic: catapulting into the air like an outraged rodeo bull determined to get the cowboy off his back. The owner had the dog’s collar and a corner of blanket in one hand as the dog proceeded to drag him around the room. Somehow, a piece of the blanket got wrapped around the dog’s collar and, when the owner lost his grip and fell to the floor, the blanket was still attached to the dog’s collar! The dog continued racing around the room like a madman because, now, he thought that the blanket was chasing him!
On one of the dog’s orbits around the room, the owner managed to stick out his foot and stomp the blanket. It disengaged from the dog’s collar, falling lifelessly to the floor. The dog collapsed in exhaustion while, in an act of pure frustration, the owner picked up the blanket and threw it across the room!
By this time, I was thinking that we might have had enough for one day, that maybe it’d be best to come back another day when the owner could preemptively tranquilize the dog before coming to the clinic. The owner, though, was now completely pissed off. He didn’t to talk about coming back some other time! Instead, he proclaimed that he was going to get his dog to behave if it was the last thing he ever did! All I could think was, “Oh oh!”
The wife did her best to dissuade her husband but he refused to change his mind. Getting up from the floor, the man stood there with a disapproving look on his face: like a father who’s decided it’s high time to march his son out to the woodshed for some overdue discipline. Once again, I thought, “Oh oh!”
Without a clue as to what he was going to do, the man knelt down next to his dog and gently placed his head against the dog’s head. My first thought was that he was going to try whispering something into the dog’s ear, that he might promise him a juicy steak if he’d just hold still for his shot. But, in a move so fast that I was completely caught off guard (the dog too), the man seized the dog’s neck in a vicious headlock that would have made any Wild World of Wrestling wrestler proud! The dog responded with immediate outrage, frantically wiggling and writhing in a desperate attempt to get free. The man, his face red and distorted in a ghastly grimace, held on to the dog for all he was worth. In a stunt that reminded me of stories of super-human strength where someone’s able to singlehandedly pick up a car in order to rescue a child, the man somehow managed to pick his hundred and fifty-pound dog off the floor, flip him sideways and then slam him to the ground. It was the most incredible takedown I’d ever seen! To seal the deal, the man wrapped and locked his arms and legs around the dog in what looked like some kind of competitive spooning!
It was an incredible battle of man versus dog! I was so transfixed by the duel going on in front of me that I almost forgot my part in it! Snapping out of my trance, I made a beeline for the dog’s butt, my rabies syringe at the ready but, just as I was about to give the shot, the dog flipped the tables on defeat! Like a mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, the dog moved to his feet with his owner still-attached! Then, with the suddenness of a cork being shot from a Champagne bottle, the dog’s head popped free from the owner’s hold and slammed right into the owner’s face! A horrible crunching noise echoed through the room and everyone froze. For a moment, it appeared as if the owner might be seeing stars. Then, like a dam releases its floodgates, blood gushed from the owner’s nose. (We later learned the dog had indeed broken the owner’s nose!) We all watched in shock as the owner rolled over and curled up into a fetal ball, cupping his bleeding nose and letting loose of a barrage of curses at the dog (which was hunkering down miserably in a corner of the room.) All the while, the wife yelled at her husband, “I told you so, I told you so!”
As one of my staff ran to get some ice, the rest of us tried to mop up the blood before someone slipped in it. It was twenty minutes before calm was finally restored. I could hardly believe it but I heard myself telling the owner that there was one more thing that we gave up on getting his dog vaccinated. After all he’d been through, the man immediately perked right up, staring at me inquiringly from behind his ice pack. His wife, on the other hand, rolled her eyes and looked at me as if I’d just grown a second head!
I told the owner that I had been ready to give up but that something had occurred to me in the middle of his wrestling match with his dog: I’d flash-backed to the days when I’d worked with cattle and we’d always used a squeeze chute whenever we needed to restrain a cow for a procedure.
Squeeze chutes are lifesavers (literally!) when dealing with cattle. The one tricky thing about a squeeze chute, though, is the timing of the chute closure. A squeeze chute operator must keep an eye on the cow as it approaches the chute and time the closure of the chute at just the right time so that the chute closes around the cow’s neck with the cow’s head poking out of the end of the chute. To close the chute, the operator must yank down on a heavy metal lever with speed and muscle. If the lever’s pulled down too soon, the cow’s head still be inside the chute. The operator must then try to open up the chute just enough to let the cow see some daylight so she’ll try to make a break for it. When the cow makes a beeline for freedom, the operator must pull the lever again and hope he got the cow’s neck.
If the lever is pulled too late, a fast cow might actually zip right through the chute and be out on the other side before the chute gets closed. If the cow’s not that fast, one of her shoulders or front legs might be sticking out the front of the chute. The operator must now try to open the chute enough to make it possible for the ranch hands to shove the cow’s leg or shoulder back into chute. If the ranch hands can’t get the cow to back up, the cow has to be released and run through the chute all over again.
The squeeze chute just happened to pop into my mind as I watched the owner wrestle with his dog. The thought that occurred to me was if a squeeze chute can restrain a fifteen hundred pound cow, why can’t we do something similar to restrain this hundred and fifty pound Rottweiler? I was already thinking that the heavy exam room door might be a great substitute squeeze chute.
I explained to the owner how it was going to work. First, the owner’d walk the dog very slowly from the exam room out into the waiting room: fooling the dog that he was all done for the day. Then, when the dog was half of the way through the door, one of my techs (strategically positioned behind the door) would shut the door forcibly on the dog. The owner would plant himself in front of the Rottweiler so he wouldn’t be able to shove through the door way while I quickly gave the dog a shot in the butt.
I’m not sure if the Rottweiler had finally had enough for one day but our very first attempt to squeeze the dog with the exam room door worked like a charm! After all we’d already been through, it was actually a bit anti-climactic! The dog simply stood there with the door smashed against him while I gave him the rabies vaccination.
The only regret I have is that I didn’t get the whole thing on video because I’ve told this story countless times over the years but “seeing is truly believing!”
The point to take away from the Rottweiler story as we return to our discussion of temperament and genetics is that the Rottweiler’s behavior was entirely dictated of his genetics. Things would have gone quite differently if the Rottweiler had been a Golden Retriever or a Labrador. The Rottweiler was simply being a Rottweiler and his behavior wasn’t intentional, premeditated or strategic. It wasn’t even conscious: the Rottweiler was simply responding genetically in typical Rottweiler fashion to a situation he felt was threatening.
All creatures respond to their environment according their individual temperaments. What makes humans different from all the other creatures on the planet is that we have the ability to analyze and critique ourselves. As we critique and evaluate ourselves, we decide what we like and don’t like about ourselves. Then, if there’s something about ourselves that we don’t like, we can at least try to change ourselves. Dogs (and other creatures) don’t have the ability to consciously and intentionally make a decision to change themselves. That’s why the Rottweiler above had no option but to behave like a Rottweiler (and he obviously can’t be faulted for that!)
Because we humans have the potential to change ourselves, we get carried away with that thought as we try to convince ourselves that we can transform ourselves into anything we want if we just try hard enough. Our feelings of being “all powerful” are based in our belief that we’re superior to all other creatures on Earth. Though it’s true that people have some amazing capabilities as compared to other creatures, we can’t overlook the fact that we’re genetic beings and, consequently, have a limited ability to change. In truth, we don’t have nearly as much power over ourselves as we think we do.
The negative consequences of our belief that we can transform ourselves into anything we want is the resultant blame and guilt we’re saddled with when we find we can’t really change ourselves all that much. We end up despising ourselves for not being strong enough or determined enough to bring about the transformation we wanted for ourselves. The truth is we can’t change that much as a result of our DNA.
Just because dogs (and other animals) don’t have the ability to consciously train themselves doesn’t mean they can’t be trained. I’m certain that if the Rottweiler in the story above had been trained, the office visit would have gone much more smoothly. Yet, even with some training, a Rottweiler is still going to be a Rottweiler. It doesn’t matter how much training a Rottweiler gets, a Rottweiler is never going to be a Golden Retriever! Rottweilers are always going to be more dominant, stubborn and opinionated than a Golden Retriever which is typically submissive, friendly and compliant. Anyone who’s been around Rottweilers knows that they’re not a roll-over-belly-up kind of dog: that’s simply not who they are!
And that’s how it goes with temperament: each of us born with our own unique temperament designed by the DNA we inherited from our parents. And, as with all things genetic, the DNA we get is a matter of luck and chance. In other words, whatever will be will be (que sera sera.) The blueprint of all the genes in our chromosomes is too complex for scientists to unravel and comprehend at this point in time but, at some point in the future, I have no doubt that genetic engineering will be a reality. For now, the DNA that each of us receives is totally random and arbitrary: a roll of the dice.
When we realize at some point that we haven’t been dealt the best hand genetically (the most gorgeous looks, the greatest talent, the highest IQ), it’s not surprising that we might feel a bit cheated. But the world (including our lives) is anything but fair. That the world can be so brutally unfair is something that absolutely drives us humans crazy! Tine and time again we’re completely shocked and outraged by the unfairness of the world, that certain people are cursed with unfortunate genetics or circumstances while others get all the luck (great genetics and circumstances.)
Another thing that can make the unfairness of the world even harder to bear is our temperament. Our temperament dictates not only how we respond to the world but how we cope and those individuals who are born with a difficult or slow-to-warm-up temperament are definitely going to have a harder time dealing with the unfairness of life than those who’re born with an easy temperament.
This explains why certain individuals (dogs or people) can’t ever happy even when life is treating them good! These unhappy individuals are typically the ones who were born with a difficult or slow-to-warm-up temperament. Their temperament makes them to feel angry, sad and frustrated resulting in a general dissatisfaction with life. At the other end of the spectrum we find the individuals who are happy and optimistic no matter how much hardship life heaps on them. These individuals are usually the ones who were born with an easy temperament. DNA has much more of an influence on our mood than our environment and individual circumstances.
How temperament dictates mood is something that’s extremely easy to see in dogs. It’s why Chihuahuas (who have difficult temperaments) are so frequently crabby and irritable even when they’re living in the lap of luxury. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be that shocking to find a homeless, half-starved Lab that’s still upbeat and out-going in spite of its difficult circumstances.
As children, most of us were told that “anything’s possible if we simply work hard enough at it.” Yet, the older we get, the more we discovered that anything isn’t possible. What we found, instead, is that the world’s made up of the “haves” and the “have-nots.” And, if we’re born a “have-not,” it can be almost impossible to ever become a “have.” This awareness is just the start of our education as to how unfair the world can be.
The question then becomes: “How do we find peace in a world that so completely unfair?” To begin with (and this is going to sound incredibly odd initially), we must accept our powerlessness. We must make peace with the fact that we don’t have the power and control over our lives that we would like to have: we can’t control who our families are or the socio-economic circumstances that we’re born into; we can’t control our inherited appearance or our innate intelligence; we can’t control how we respond to the world (our temperament) and we can’t control what the world or the other people in the world do.
The troublesome fact about us humans is that, even though we don’t in reality have much control over our lives, we can’t seem to let go of the belief that we’re the masters of our destiny. One reason for this is that we can’t comprehend just how much our DNA controls our lives. It doesn’t help that we can’t see our DNA and, as a consequence, its “invisibility” completely minimizes its importance in our minds. We inevitably focus on (because that’ what we can see) the environmental aspects of our lives. That’s what we’ve lived through! Yet, just because we can’t see our DNA doesn’t mean that its impact is any less profound. Considering that what we know about genetics is only the tip of the iceberg, the future is bound to be packed with further proof of DNA’s powerful influence on our lives.
Once we accept that our DNA prevents us from ever being able to change ourselves that much, our whole world perspective is altered. Once we embrace our powerlessness, that we’re all a product of our genetics, then it becomes apparent how much we all have in common. Even though we might look different from one another on the outside, we’re all in the same situation on the inside. Any peace that we might experience in this world is going to start with the knowledge that we’re not being singled out, that everyone feels the same as we do, that we’re all stuck in the same leaky boat called Life. All of us struggle to make sense of our lives; all of us long to love and to be loved; we all want to make a difference in the world so that we can die knowing that it mattered that we lived.
The significance of understanding how much we all have in common and how that can change our worlds is pointed out in Steven Pinkler’s book “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” Steven Pinkler, a Harvard professor, shows proof in his book that humans are much less violent towards one another than they were in the past. I was shocked by this as, with all the media attention that violence in the world these days, I’d simply assumed that people were more violent towards each other than ever before but Pinkler displays more than sufficient data to support his facts.
Pinkler postulates that the reason there’s less violence now than in the early years of mankind has to do with two specific events: the advent of manners and the widespread reading of novels. When I heard this, I thought, “What? I understand how manners might have helped to decrease violence but the reading of novels?” I would have never guessed that! What Pinkler explains is that, once people started reading novels in mass, they started to develop a sense of empathy and compassion for one another because, for the first time, they were experiencing (through reading) the intimate feelings and life experiences of someone else’s life. Novels created a bridge between our lives and the lives of other people.
Reading about someone else’s pain and suffering makes us feel less alone. Before the widespread reading of novels, people tended to think that they were the only ones who felt lonely and sad, that they were the only ones who felt that no one really cared about them, that they were the only one who was powerless to make their life turn out the way they’d wanted it to. With the reading of novels, people saw that everyone struggles, that everyone suffers and, because of that, we have a bond with one another. It was less “me versus them” and more “us.” Through the reading of novels, people saw that world was extremely unfair to everyone and that all of our lives were more a matter of luck and chance than they were a matter of will, design and intention. Through reading novels we discovered that everyone endured heartbreak and loss.
Though there’s no denying that some people have better lives than others, the truth is all of us struggle at trying to live the best life that we can before we die. If we can keep in mind that every single one of us struggles and suffers, we can avoid the feeling that the world’s out to get “us.” In truth, the world’s out to get us all!
One of the most incredible traits of the human race is our ability to open our hearts whenever there’s a tragedy or crisis. In catastrophic situations, we’re momentarily blinded to the differences we typically use to divide and separate ourselves from one another (our ethnicities, religions, appearance and social standing.) As long as we’re in the middle of a crisis, we see only what we have in common. Sadly, once the crisis is over and enough time has passed, we tend to revert to our previously divisive way of seeing one another.
That’s where the final piece of the puzzle in the quest for peace comes into play: being able to forgive and let go of the things that have hurt us. Fortunately, forgiveness is a natural bi-product of compassion and empathy such that, if someone who’s hurt us expresses authentic remorse, we can typically forgive the the person and let it go. Each step on the path to peace leads to the next:
1. First off, we embrace our powerlessness: that each of us is a product of our genetics and our personal circumstances.
2. Then, we embrace our commonality: that no matter how different we may be on the outside, we’re extremely similar on the inside.
3. Next, we develop empathy and compassion for ourselves and others because we all want love, health and success in our lives but, inevitably, everyone’s hopes and dreams fall short. There’s suffering in everyone’s lif4. Finally, we forgive ourselves, other people and the world for being the source of our pain.
Boom, boom, boom, boom: peace (if only it could be that easy!) Making peace with ourselves and the world isn’t easy because the world can be such a cruel and heartless place. If all the suffering in the world was doled out equally, then we might not feel so outraged because, though there’d still be suffering, at least it’d be equally divided among everyone. But, clearly, that’s not the way the world works as some people definitely get an unequal share of the world’s suffering. Still, if we want to attain some measure of peace in our lives, we need to accept the world as it is. Otherwise, we’ll simply continue to be sad and resentful as we repeatedly ask ourselves, “Why? Why is this happening to me?” If we can’t accept that the world is simply doing what it does and that nothing is actually personal or intentional, we’ll often end up with the feeling that we’re being picked on and singled out by the world. If we can make peace with the fact that the world is going to cause us pain at some point or another, then when something tragic happens (as it always will), we can console ourselves with the knowledge that heartbreak happens to everyone and this is merely our time to suffer.
We must all do what we can to mentally prepare ourselves for the suffering that will one day come our way. Suffering is an inescapable part of life and, though there’s no way to escape it when it’s our turn to suffer, we can at least find a measure of peace in the fact that everyone is fated to suffer at some point in this world.
It’s important to understand that simply because we choose to accept the world as it is doesn’t mean that we need to give up on trying to make it a better place! Every human dreams about making a difference in the world and that’s one of the most endearing traits of the human race. But, as in the Serenity Prayer, it can be extremely difficult to know what’s changeable and what isn’t changeable about our lives and the world. If our hopes and dreams are too unrealistic, we’ll simply be setting ourselves up for heartbreak because there are many aspects of this world that aren’t going to change. But, as we can’t know ahead of time what we can and can’t change, we have no choice but to give up or give it a try.
Dreams are the engine that runs our desire for change. Humans are born to dream and there’s absolutely nothing we can do to keep ourselves from dreaming. Even when our dreams are bizarre or unrealistic, they creep into our consciousness devoid of limits and boundaries. Most of our dreams are farfetched and unrealistic (just think of American Idol and how every contestant thinks they’re going to win!) but, as we can’t stop ourselves from dreaming, the only way to stay realistic is to constantly remind ourselves that we’re mostly powerless over what happens in our own lives, the lives of others and the world. We can dream all we want but that doesn’t mean our dreams will come true.
The difficulty with dreams is that, once we have a dream, we can’t stop ourselves from but thinking about it and wanting it. That’s why many of us spend our entire lives dreaming about how wonderful our lives will be when something or someone finally changes and our dreams finally come true. But, when we’re constantly dreaming about our hopes for the future, it unfortunately means that we’re not that happy with our present life.
Dreaming is the flip-side of acceptance and peace. If we’re dreaming (longing for something we don’t have), we’re not in a state of acceptance or at peace. Peace is only possible when we’re able to truly accept our present circumstances as they are. Dreams negate our peace of mind because, by their very nature, dreams involve the hope that we can transform our present situation into something more satisfying.
It’s extremely hard for humans to accept how powerless we are. Though we can’t accept our own inability to change ourselves we don’t have a problem accepting that other creatures on the planet can’t change what they are. We easily accept that dogs are born with a certain temperament due to their particular breed or mixture of breeds. You never see a dog owner complaining that they he can’t get his Doberman to act like a Poodle! No one would ever “dream” of something like that! Still, when it comes to our own expectations for personal change, some of our expectations are almost as preposterous as hoping a Doberman can transform itself into a Poodle!
Humans have always had a hard time being able to accept the individuals they are. It’s probably one of the reasons why we adore dogs so much! Dogs just are: they never question who they are are or try to change themselves. Dogs accept us for who we are unconditionally and we do the same for them. As we don’t expect dogs to change that much, we’re simply able to enjoy them for who they are. If there’s ever a problem with our dog’s behavior, we either take steps to remedy the problem or we learn to live with the behavior.
If only we could do that with ourselves and each other! Instead, at the first sight of a problem with ourselves or someone else, we immediately demand that someone must change. No thought is ever given to simply trying to accept our own behavior or that of someone else. We stubbornly reject any ideas of acceptance because we want things to be the way we want them to be, not the way that they are! Humans refuse to abandon their belief that change is possible. And, when the change we want isn’t immediately forthcoming, we resort to accusing ourselves (and others) of not really trying that hard to change in the first place.
Why doesn’t it ever occur to us that the reason it’s so hard for us to change is because we can’t change? It’s almost as if we enjoy judging and condemning ourselves for our inability to change! How cruel is that? We constantly chastise ourselves (and others) for simply being the persons that we were born to be. It’s the same as blaming a Doberman for not being a Poodle.
The truth is very few of us ever experience what it’s like to truly be accepted and valued just for the person that we are. We don’t accept other people, other people don’t accept us and we certainly don’t accept ourselves. We’re determined to nitpick ourselves (and others) to death on a daily basis! We believe that everyone should be able to change at least one bad habit or behavior in order to become a better human being. “Changing each of ourselves for the better” may as well be the motto of the human race. It’s definitely our justification for demanding change from ourselves and others. And yet, as all of us have seen more times than we can count, it’s basically impossible for any of us to ever change that much. And, if we do manage to change in some small way, it’s not by much. It’s too bad that we can’t accept ourselves (and others) in the same way we accept dogs: as they are.
As we try to attain some peace and acceptance in our lives, we shouldn’t feel as if we’re becoming a defeatist or some kind of quitter simply because we’re trying to achieve some acceptance. In truth, the opposite is true! Whenever we accept the world and ourselves as we are, what we find is that instead of giving up, we’re actually letting go and moving on. With acceptance, we can start living our lives based on what’s so rather than on what we wish could be so.
When we’re unable to accept the world and ourselves as we are, our lives get put on hold. Instead of learning to live with life as it is, we go around and around on our own private hamster wheel as we continually wait for something or someone to change until we get whatever it is that we don’t have.
In the past I’ve promised myself at least a million times that I’d go dancing or start dating again once I managed to lose weight. There were also times in my past when I swore that I’d leave a bad-tempered boyfriend if he treated badly one more time. But, surprise, surprise, there was always another time and then one time more because I couldn’t stop myself from hoping that something would finally change and I’d be able to start living the life that I’d been dreaming about for years.
Because we’re human and dreaming is simply what we do, it’s never going to be easy to tame our hopes and dreams. When a dream sparks a tiny flame in our hearts, hope immediately flares up like fuel was poured all over the fire. In no time at all we’re consumed with all kinds of plans and schemes that will make our dream a reality. Just like that, we’re trapped in the land of “if only:” if only I could be thin I’d be happy, if only I could win American Idol I’d be happy, if only I could be rich, smart or in love I’d be happy. Once a dream starts to whisper sweet nothings in our ear, we’ll never be happy with the life we have because we now want the dream!
Dreams are about survival and control. As living beings, we are constantly preoccupied with survival even though we might not consciously aware of it most of the time. Our need to survive causes us to want control in our lives because, if we can control the people and circumstances in our lives, we’ll have a much better chance of being able to not only survive but thrive. Survival is key for each and every living creature because, before we can accomplish anything in our lives (finding a mate, producing offspring, etc.), we must first survive. This need to survive explains why we’re so frequently preoccupied with becoming rich and powerful: if we become rich and powerful, we’ll be able to afford all the things we need to keep ourselves and our families safe and healthy.
Our dreams are frequently inspired by the pain in our lives. No one enjoys pain so, as soon as we find ourselves in a painful situation, we’re immediately going to start dreaming about what we need to do to make the pain stop. Sometimes, our quest to avoid pain can backfire at times in that we can become so afraid of pain that we avoid anything that might cause us pain: even something wonderful! I’ve seen this kind of behavior over the years I spent being a veterinarian: certain people (who were overly devastated by the loss of their pet) would decide to never have another pet simply so they wouldn’t have feel pain when they lose that pet. That’s not only denying ourselves a great source of joy in our lives but it’s eliminating a potential home where an animal would be dearly loved and cherished. Of course, it’s devastating to lose a pet we love but would we rather never experience love just because it will some day end? That seems even more heartbreaking. Pain and loss are a normal part of life and we must try to find a way to be at peace with that fact because, if we put the avoidance of pain as our first priority, we’re going miss out on a whole lot of love as well as many other amazing experiences.
At the other end of the pain-avoidance spectrum are those of us who find it almost impossible to extricate ourselves from the clutches of a painful situation. We might be so incredibly miserable that all we do day in and day out is dream of how to escape that painful situation but we don’t break free! Many of us are so afraid of the unknown that we choose to stay with what we know rather than risk what we don’t know. Yet, if we want to have any hope of living a full and satisfying life, we must do more than just survive, we must strive to live the best life that we can possibly live. And, if we’re going to live the best life that we can possibly live, there will be many times when we must abandon our comfort zone and confront the unknown.
This is where our dreams can actually help us. A dream can be a powerful source of motivation in our lives because our dreams will continue to taunt and torment us until we get off our butts and give the unknown a try. In dreams is where we see ourselves living our best possible life. Yet, having dreams comes at a cost: the price we pay is that we’re going to be constantly dissatisfied with the life we’re currently living. Dreams make us long for what we don’t have so, consequently, they leave us feeling completely discontented with what we do have. Though dreaming is an important part of our lives, dreams will always magnify our feelings of dissatisfaction.
Considering our predicament, the best we can hope for is some kind of shaky balance between the restless longings of our dreams and the complacency we experience when we simply accept our lives as they are.
No matter what, though, all of us are unique individuals engineered by our DNA and, as such, we’re fated to live out our lives as the genetic person that we were born to be. None of us can change that much because of that fact so, que sera sera. Woof!