Lucy, the puppy-girl, has a new training program. I resisted it until I fully realized that her behavior was preventing us from having friends visit us in our home. No one likes to be jumped on by a 50-pound dog! Additionally, I have replaced a rug and reupholstered a chair because Lucy likes to chew. I tried to justify these purchases by saying the chair and rug were old and needed to go away. But, the fact remained that my dog was running the household and our lives. She supposedly passed Puppy Training 1001 three times. I have the certificates to prove it! Although, each class had the philosophy that everyone gets a trophy on the last day, which offered no guarantee that important lessons were learned. Lucy was potty trained and could heel when we took her on take long, happy walks. But, her behavior at home wasn’t acceptable and didn’t seem to be getting any better. One trainer told us to ignore bad behavior and reward her when she did something good. I ran out of treats and she continued to terrorize our furniture and friends. Another trainer informed me Lucy saw herself as the alpha-dog and I simply wasn’t dominant enough. True! My natural style is to live and let live. Lucy spent much of her time in a crate and I crept around the house hoping she would think she was home alone making nap time her primary activity. My occasional tantrum did nothing to teach her proper manners. My arm remained her favorite chew-toy and my patience was thin.
The new program uses a small device that attaches to her collar. When I push a button, she gets a gentle reminder that what she is doing is unacceptable. I avoided this type of a system until I had the opportunity to hold a collar in my hand and feel the vibration she would experience when given a correction. It is gentle, as if someone is rapidly tapping her on the shoulder and encouraging her to focus on right behavior.
It reminds me of Pinocchio’s conscience, Jiminy Cricket. Pinocchio’s goal in life was to become a ‘real boy’ instead of a talking puppet. Yet, his world was full of seductive temptations and stumbling blocks designed to divert him from the right choices. Jiminy Cricket would jump in and tap him on the shoulder in an attempt to get his attention away from those things that prevented him from living the life he so longed for.
If I have a choice, I would prefer the persistent tap of Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder to the gentle reminder from Lucy’s collar. Suffice it to say, I could certainly use either. Maybe we all could. We are surrounded with an infinite number of choices. Some make little difference – like whether to have a latte or cappuccino. Who cares? It’s probably a more important choice to have skim milk over whole milk floating on my espresso, but there are those who would argue that point as well. I have a fairly strong opinion about the foods I eat and how they are produced. I want my chickens to have had the opportunity to live like a chicken was created to live. You know, pecking and scratching instead of existing in a cage so small there is no place to move around and stuffed so full of hormones that they grow at an unnatural rate. I want real fruits and vegetables, preferably organic to protect not only my health, but as a means to keep pesticides and herbicides out of the ground waters. These are choices about health and ecology.
But, there are the other choices that are important in another way. What difference does it make if I flip off the driver who sped up so I couldn’t get into the lane I needed? Worse yet, what if I am that driver who thinks I own the road? Those kinds of choices get to the heart of who I think I am and how I expect others to respond to me. In reality they are choices about compassion and where I see my place in humanity. Yes, driving manners seem to be low-level behaviors, but they certainly speak to responses that can ooze out of a person when it appears no one is looking.
Finally, there are the really big choices that we all hesitate to talk about except to our very best friends who are sworn to secrecy and will keep the promise of confidentiality because of where you have both been with each other over the years. These are the things that can be life altering – sometimes in a good way, and sometimes not.
By this time you get the point. Our choices come from so many places. They can come from past pains or joys; from intellectual parameters or creativity; from our experiences or our dreams; from our fears, our perceived inadequacies, or crazy attitudes about life and what it is supposed to offer to us and those around us. Ultimately, our choices can be jaded by responses to life’s experiences and opportunities or augmented by joys and successes. I guess it’s fair to say there is also a point in life when we could use a correction collar like Lucy’s or a nagging conscience like Pinocchio’s Jiminy Cricket…something to keep us on course when our options magnificently pull us away from all that is right and true and good.
The thing is, we have been given a barometer to weigh our choices against. The trendy expression “What would Jesus do?” frequently comes up in conversations about right choices. To fully appreciate this statement, one has to dig behind it to define how Jesus made his decisions. He didn’t have a laundry list of religious legalisms. Of course, he was Jewish and there was the Torah and all of the laws contained therein which spoke to human interactions and relationships. Yet, he followed the preeminent theme of love and compassion even when his choice collided with the common interpretations of Torah as defined by his culture. Basically, his life taught us that when all else fails, try love and compassion. Actually, try them first so all else doesn’t need to fail!
I still want the nudge when society’s alluring message of what’s important rubs up against what love and compassion would have me do and I start leaning the wrong way. I will make mistakes, I will have successes and, ultimately, I will need a whole lot of forgiveness for those times when I really want to be right but am decidedly wrong.
Lucy’s collar is instrumental in teaching her manners and Pinocchio became a real boy. I am hopeful that when I remember to wear love and compassion as my correction collar or accept them as the nagging cricket on my shoulder, my choices will be the right ones.