Thursday, December 1, 2011

Shivering with love…

My dog does something I call the “Shake of Love.” It happens when I (or anyone, really) spend more than four seconds giving her undivided attention. We could be wrestling, or I could be scratching her belly. Whatever initiates it, she deeply enjoys such encounters, her speedily wagging tail being all the proof I need. And if I (or anyone, really) keep it up long enough, she’ll get so overwhelmed with joy that she stops and shakes herself as fast as possible, as if she’d just been doused with water. As I said, the “Shake of Love.” After which, she bounds back to me (or anyone, really), making it abundantly clear she wants the tummy rub, wrestling, personal attention continued. It’s all very cute. Until it’s not, and I have to make her stop wrestling with or licking me. Fawkes the Dog is nothing if not…persistent.

And consistent. Because this pretty much occurs without fail. Again, fulfill every above condition and Fawkes, she’s a-shakin’. Therefore, naturally, I’m jealous. My enjoyment of or ‘love’ for others decidedly does not arise so quickly, so excessively, so exuberantly, so easily. Not usually, at least. Sure, some would say, “Shane, dogs are different, more trusting.” But why should that be? Dogs get scared too. And especially for us Christians, we who follow the leader who once implored, “Love you neighbor as yourself.” Though we can’t wick water off our bodies with wild gesticulations (thus our shakes of love would look a tad different), why aren’t we as generous and enraptured with our love of others as my dog?

I wonder if the key here is memory. Our dog trainer said, “Don’t discipline Fawkes if she chews up the sofa, but you weren’t around when it happened. Her short-term memory is limited. So she won’t associate your discipline with her actions.” Humans, by contrast, remember much, much more. I read recently about the memory-making wonder machine that is the human brain, how we form richly detailed memories, how frequently that occurs, how we translate those memories into general impressions (and biases) about the world, ourselves and others.

And particularly, how amazing we are at… distorting what happens to us. Apparently, studies show that when a person’s wronged, s/he often amplifies how bad what happened actually was. But when the shoe’s on the other foot, we “remember” ourselves being much more conscientious and considerate than the person we wronged says we were. Of course, in some situations it doesn’t matter whether a person amplifies the offense or not. Some wrongs are truly horrific, regardless the excuses an offender gives. But in the everyday rush hours and pushy airport lines of life, it rings true to my experience that people (not me, of course) would remember the actions of others in more negative lights than the actions of self. And therefore- perhaps- be more reserved with offering love, trust, kindness than our short-term limited, lovable pets.

Fortunately for us, though, another human capacity is change, i.e. if we’re open to the possibility that maybe someone ‘remembers’ an issue differently than you, we can adapt our feelings of hurt or frustration by seeking common ground. I wonder, even, if this has something to do with what Jesus meant by, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” We’re often quick to see extenuating circumstances in our behavior, accept complex motivations for what we do, or excuse an oversight or thoughtless action. Sometimes we’re even capable of forgiving ourselves. What if we extended the same treatment to others? What if we did so repeatedly enough, even, that our instincts weren’t based on the pained, fearful, unloving or selfish memories we’re so good are creating and storing, but on the loving, joyful, patient and accepting attitudes we allow for our own behavior? That need not be mean indulging another’s mistakes, idiotic actions or downright malicious deeds. Our big brains can tell the difference. But perhaps if we accepted that most others as, basically, the same wonderful, flawed humans we are, we’d find ourselves shaking with love more often. And life would be sweeter for it.

Grace and Peace,

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