Friday, May 11, 2012

Watch Your Thoughts

I’d like to tell you a story today. It’s about a dog named Jeffrey. Jeffrey is a young dog, just barely past adolescence. I don’t know his breed, but that’s not important, because it’s his deeds that matter for this story. You see, Jeffrey is powerful and aggressive, and over the course of the last year or so, he's killed 29 dogs. What’s more, he’s been threatening humans, and it seems inevitable that it’s only a matter of time before he severely injures a person.

I don’t know much about his past. It’s easy to assume that his owners must have done something to create such an unsafe dog. Whether they did or not is immaterial; Jeffrey clearly has a genetic component to his aggression. His brain just isn’t right.

In short, he’s one of those dogs that just can’t be saved. I think it’s safe to say that if he isn’t euthanized, then some very good long-term management (probably a sanctuary of some kind) is in order to keep others safe. Most people who’ve heard about Jeffrey agree. Surprisingly, though, a lot of those people want him to suffer. Put a muzzle on him and let his ears be torn off. Break his legs. Let him be savaged as he savaged others.

Pretty horrifying, right? I hope that you, dear readers, agree with me when I say that doing so would serve no purpose. That Jeffrey is unlikely to learn from the experience, and that despite the terrible things he’s done, he deserves to be treated humanely. After all, whether he was abused or just has a screwed-up brain, he still doesn’t deserve to be betrayed by people like that.

Now, what if I told you that Jeffrey is actually a person?

I ran across Jeffrey's story recently. Please, don’t click on that link. The story is absolutely horrifying, and I really wish I hadn’t read it. I literally felt sick as I read the terrible things this man did. Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this entry, because I am in no way condoning the evil this man has done.

As much as Jeffrey’s acts upset me, the comments on the article upset me even more. While I certainly understand people’s reactions, some of the suggestions are disturbing. There is no question that this man did terrible things, and honestly, I think it’s a pretty natural and instinctive reaction to want others to suffer when they are so intentionally cruel. But that doesn’t make it right. No matter what a person has done, they don’t deserve cruelty in return.

At the very core of my worldview is this: all people are basically good, and that despite the very terrible things they may do, they deserve to be treated kindly. Many religious traditions agree; from the Buddhist concept of ahimsa (do no harm) to the Christian belief that man was created in G-d’s image, there is a long tradition of compassion and forgiveness. When we hear about such unspeakable evil- like this man Jeffrey committed- it is okay to feel sick. It is okay to be angry. It is okay to be outraged. But it is not okay to do evil in response to evil.

It is clear to me that this man’s brain is not normal. It seems unlikely that he could ever live normally in the community. It is imperative that we keep society safe from him. But it’s not okay to torture him. Because if we do, how are we any different than him?

For those of you who would argue that there’s a huge difference between the comments people left and the things Jeffrey did, I’d like you to consider these words from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

He says it far better than I ever could. The distance between thoughts and destiny is not so far. Strive for kindness and compassion in your life. Be as positive with people as you would be with dogs. And above all, my friends, watch your thoughts.


Elephant said...

It takes great courage to advocate compassion for someone in a case like this. Most people, sickened by this man's crimes, leap to condemn him and misinterpret having compassion as condoning his actions.

reddog said...

Beautiful post, and I love that Emerson quote, which I hadn't read before. And I am so not clicking on that link - I'm quite sure I've heard all I want to. Thanks for your compassionate perspective.

Mary said...

Wise words. I'm often surprised when dog people (most positive trainers) wish harm on Michael Vick for the things he did. I find it disturbing as I see them wish cruelty, pain and punishment on him. Really? Like you, I can't see how violence is the answer to anything.

Kind of like the parent who slaps his kid because his kid slapped someone. What kind of lesson is that? That violence is a viable way to solve problems. That can't be good for anyone.

Great post. :)

Kirsten (peacefuldog) said...

That is very good advice. Your post takes a horrific situation and turns it into a beautiful and peace-inspiring reminder for us all.