Buster the Schnauzer barks like a lunatic every time someone passes our house. Since we live in a city, this is not an infrequent happening. He jumps on people at the front door. He occasionally chases the cat. And if he encounters a pile of poop while trekking through the park there is a 50/50 chance that he is going to roll in it.
Yes. You read that right. My dog rolls in poop.
These are not attractive personal qualities and it is fair to say that our family is engaged in a never-ending battle to get our unruly housemate under control. Yet somehow, despite his behaviours, we all love Buster. Why?
In the workplace, those with habits half as annoying as Buster’s are apt to find themselves on the unemployment line. And, in personal relationships, most of us would be looking for the way out of “for better or worse” if “worse” was anything like what Buster offers up. So what makes the dog so special? I think the secret lies in his acceptance of the consequences.
Buster never tries to shift the blame and never shrugs off our discontent. He does what he does and then he accepts what happens next. Better yet, he offers up a sincere apology, complete with sad eyes, hunched posture and even a little sigh. Depending on the severity of his transgression, he may even lower himself to the floor and cover his muzzle with both paws. It’s hard to stay mad at Buster because he offers no resistance to your anger. Without resistance there is nothing to keep the rage alive and so inevitably, the tone changes, angry voices soften, and the episode commonly ends with Buster getting a belly rub.
It is hard to say sorry. Even when I know I’m wrong, I have this need to put a “but” on the end of my apology and that simple conjunction makes it clear that I’m not offering 100%. Sure, I’m willing to accept some responsibility for the situation, “but”… Buster has taught me to think before I speak and to consider how invested I am in being right. Is it worth a long, emotionally draining conversation with no guarantee of resolution? Frankly, sometimes it is, but more often than not, the wiser choice is to keep that “but” to myself and accept the consequences. Let the other guy have the moment when his feelings are acknowledged and if there’s anger in those feelings, let it wash over you until it ebbs away.
I am amazed by how effective a sincere apology can be and by how many times it can actually improve a relationship. Of course, unlike the dog, I have to follow up my apology with improved behaviours – because no one, including myself, is as charming and easily forgiven as Buster the schnauzer!