Piacenza: Feed the good dog
You’ve probably heard the parable of the good dog and the bad dog. Some attribute it to Lakota leader Sitting Bull, some to a Cherokee traditional tale. Others say the first appearance in print featured an Eskimo in evangelist Billy Graham’s 1978 book, “The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life.”
Regardless of its origin, the brief story seems to touch on a universal truth of human nature. Here’s one version:
“A tribal elder is teaching his grandson about life. ‘A fight is going on inside me,’ he said to the boy.
‘It is a terrible fight and it is between two dogs. One is evil — he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.’
He continued, ‘The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you — and inside every other person, too.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, ‘Which dog will win?’
The wise old man replied simply, ‘The one you feed.’”
In every person, however hard we try to maintain an acceptable social persona, there is a shadow side. For most of us, it’s the part of us that renders the harshest judgments on others but rarely voices them. The part that reaches for the biggest slice of pie or the last cookie, though perhaps we withdraw our hand guiltily in the presence of others. It’s that jealous voice that envies the success or apparent happiness of others and mentally grouses about what we ourselves don’t have.
But should we condemn ourselves for these negative impulses? As the wise elder says, they are “going on inside you — and inside every other person, too.”
Most of us are encouraged by early family nurturing and education to dismiss this less appealing side of ourselves in favor of social harmony, sometimes to the point of denying it altogether. This makes it unlikely we’ll exhibit extreme anti-social behavior, and easier to draw a bright line between ourselves and those who do.
But what happens when family and society don’t impose the norms that keep our baser instincts at bay? What if they actually feed our judgmental, selfish, envious self? What if those we normally accept as wiser voices no longer encourage us to embrace and meet our obligations to community and country? What if those voices feed the bad dog?
There is no way to pin the U.S. epidemic of mass shootings on a single cause. Individual upbringing, mental illness, easy access to military-style weapons all have undoubtedly played a part. But perhaps the most insidious cause is affirmation of the most hateful aspects of human nature by officials we’ve been taught to respect.
Clearly there is a growing cohort of young men seeking to establish their identity who find no food for the good dog – no ethical training, no exposure to the beauty of the arts, no wise grandfather – they ingest what they scavenge from “dark web” internet sites, from extremist media, hate groups and, unfortunately, from tweets and political rallies that perk up the ears of the “bad dog” in many.
Cut off from their wholeness as human beings, they indulge in less-than-human behavior, the killing of innocents.
There is no excusing or justifying these horrible acts. But perhaps there is an obligation to look more closely at the mechanism that separates us from them, to insist as a people that our families, education system – and especially our country’s leaders – feed the good dog.