Yesterday I received a comment on the blog describing a difficult situation, and looking for some advice. The person said that a co-worker was bringing her dog to work every day and leaving the dog in the car. The weather is pleasant in that part of the country this time of year, so the commenter was not concerned that the car might be too hot or too cold for the dog. And, every few hours, the commenter had seen the woman go out and walk the dog, but was worried that the dog was spending nine or more hours a day, mostly in the car. The question posed to me was, “Is there anything I can do to help the dog?”
We’ve all probably faced similar circumstances in our lives and wondered what to do. There was no indication of venom in the comment I received, but nowadays, it seems the tendency in our society is to get angry and self-rightous, confront the person we feel is doing something wrong, and feed our ego by “putting these idiots in their place.” The Internet is riddled with evidence – people calling other people names, degrading them, questioning their intelligence, and even their worth as human beings. If our goal is truly to help, we need a different approach.
The first thing to remember in a situation like this, is that no one does anything that they believe is wrong. It may seem completely irrational to us, but people can develop an explanation and justification for every action they take. And, because they believe that they’re right, they’re likely to be defensive and even belligerent, if not approached in a respectful manner.
The second thing to remember is that you can only see a small part of the total picture. It’s easy to imagine, but impossible to know why a person is behaving in a particular way. To gain an understanding of their actions, you need two things: compassion and a motivation to help.
This whole question arose from a desire to help this dog, and to do that building compassion for the dog’s owner is key. What works best for me is to try to put myself in the other person’s shoes. In this case, it’s pretty easy to imagine several scenarios where I might take my dog to work with me and leave her in my car:
Combine any of these these circumstances with the inability to afford doggy daycare, and it’s completely understandable that the dog might be better off in the car during the day. And, even if none of these imaginations reflect the actual situation, just picturing yourself in similar circumstances changes the entire dynamic.
So, what was my advice to the commenter? I suggested that expressing concern for both the co-worker and her dog would be a good starting point, and then trying to determine the reason the woman felt that leaving the dog in the car all day was her best option. When you approach someone with the intention to help, they may initially be embarrassed, but people sense that your intentions are good and become more receptive. Once the commenter understood the root of the problem, hopefully a solution could be found that would leave everyone feeling better.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that we’re all just people, doing the best we can with the tools and challenges we have. Let’s be gentle with each other.