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The other morning my nearest and dearest and I were chatting for my dog. You know, how you give your dog a voice, and have a full on conversation with them putting in what you assume they would be thinking. After we both cracked ourselves up with our witty conversation tactic (and I am sure Mocha too, although she just couldn’t express it). We started talking about dogs and children and how we are so much more likely to give them a break using the excuse–well he can’t do that he’s just a dog or she wouldn’t understand that she’s just a child. But with adults we don’t cut each other that slack. We assume we all can read each other’s minds, get every emotion dead on and just generally be perfect. We don’t give each other the depth and freedom to just be human. I have talked about his before a few times in Loving Them Anyway. But for me this was a refreshingly different way of looking at that topic.
You might argue, that dogs and children DON’T know better. Let’s face it they are simpler beings. I would agree–they are less in touch then we are as adults. However being an adult doesn’t mean you are suddenly blessed with the ability to know all, to understand exactly what your partner or friends need at exactly the right time. Being an adult doesn’t mean even if we understand then need that we can fulfill them for someone all the time.
Sadly, the difference between being an adult and being a child/animal is the innocence factor. In general, adults have more power to hurt us, to break our trust or take advantage of us. While animals and children full us with unconditional love and innocence, adults have learned the pain and vulnerability that comes from being hurt or damaged. With adults, there is a ‘fear factor’. I believe the reason we struggle with giving other adults a break is not because they should know better but because they have the potential to hurt us more. We believe children, and animals are innocent and loving unconditionally. We don’t feel they will hurt us or intentionally take advantage of us. But with adults, we feel we might get taken advantage of, we can’t fully trust their intentions, because they might hurt us. Therefore, we don’t give them a break, we don’t give them the breadth to be themselves, to be human.
I believe that frequently when we don’t give someone a break or allow them to mess up without a major punishment it is because of our own fear of hurt. I admit while I might scold Mocha for doing something wrong, I don’t hold a grudge. I don’t punish her all day or for the next week (honestly I have trouble punishing her for a minute). But with an adult, I might be more likely to ‘punish’ the ‘negative behavior’. Because I am afraid, afraid that I will get hurt, look stupid, be a push over, be taken advantage of, etc.
So the next time you are disappointed in someone or frustrated by someone take a closer look to see where that frustration comes from. Are you punishing them unnecessarily? Are you holding a grudge to protect yourself from the vulnerability or risk of intimacy? Could you spin the story to be maybe they didn’t know better, maybe they are doing the best they can, maybe I can give them room to be human?