Wednesday, October 12, 2011

fear: just because it's in our heads doesn't make it real

At lunch yesterday a colleague had just finished telling the story of her last dog.  I'd mentioned that we adopted a puppy recently, which sent her into her story.  Her dog was a problem dog who first bit the mail carrier, then their neighbor.  This was a dog who would lunge to the limit of his leash at people.  Finally, after he killed the family's two pet rabbits, they decided it was high time to "return" him to the shelter.  I had so many thoughts as she was unrolling this tale, but I just listened.  Then when she was done, she asked me what kind of puppy we'd adopted.  When I answered, "pit bull," she said "oooooooooooh" and mumbled something too quietly for me to hear as she turned her head away.


It never occurred to me to ask her what kind of dog she had, but I'm pretty sure, based on her reaction, that he wasn't a pitbull.   All I could think about was how sad for that dog, and the bunnies, too.  Tragic how these things can turn out.  I can understand wanting to return the dog.  I can.  But still, it's so sad.

Even now I am certain that Mr Burns will never in his life bite anybody ever.  He will never lunge to the end of his leash threateningly at people.  He will never do anything scary.  But people will be scared of him no matter what he does, because of what exists in their minds, altogether separate from what is sitting right in front of them, tail rhythmically, ceaselessly thumping the ground.

I knew this coming into this experience.  Hell, I knew this for close-to fourteen years with Jasper, who was a total love also.  People would ask me, nervously, "is he friendly?" even as he wagged his whole body at them, wishing, wanting for them to come over and pet him.  They'd see his brindle coloring, the shape of his face, and make assumptions, project their fears, even when there was no evidence, no reason for fear.

I get it.  It's not logical.  It's fear.

But still it pisses me off.

It pisses me off the same as those campaign signs by a candidate for City Council in Novato pledging to "eliminate illegal alien gangs."  When I googled the candidate, he was described as an anti-immigration activist.  That's a whole lot of words when simple, straight-forward "bigot" will do just fine, thanks.  Perhaps you think there are just too many of them in one place and that they're taking over the town.  You can think that. But is what's in your head REAL or is it fear?  Are they illegal or are they just brown?  

I'm thinking a lot about fear these days and about civility, about how hard it is to remain civil when we strenuously disagree with something, when we are deeply offended by off-hand remarks, statements mumbled indirectly while turning away.  I choose a way of silence most often, not wanting to compound the offense I feel with more offense to another.  And as my father says, "you can't argue with an idiot."  I know: ouch, right?  So not civil, though in so many ways, I do think it's true.  

We all get to think whatever we want to -- that's the genius of the human brain.  I do think it's good to check in, every so often, to make sure that what's in our heads actually has something to do with what's happening around us, that we're not just living inside the diorama in our crania.  Stop thinking -- look around, try to see what's there as it is, without the flavoring of memory or opinion or category.  

I don't think there is fuck-all I can really do about other people's fear.  I have enough work of my own to do, to make sure I am really living in the world as it is, instead of in the world as I think it is.

Seriously, don't believe everything you think.  Stop.  Look around.


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