I’m not someone who typically trots out that old cliché “the universe is trying to tell me something.” [Side note – if you haven’t seen the video Bill Nye (the science guy) and Amy Schumer made (https://youtu.be/6eqCaiwmr_M), it’s a must watch.] But twice within the last 24 hours, I’ve been involved in drama, in two very different ways. As someone who seeks to avoid drama, conflict, and interpersonal strife, twice in 24 hours is noteworthy. Blog post worthy even.
First, I have my own particular history with what most people now call drama. Back when I was in my 20s, I didn’t call it that. I don’t remember what I did call it; I think I had no name for the unpleasant interpersonal issues that popped up from time to time. I believed that it was possible for everyone to like me and get along with me. If there was a problem, a blip in the smooth sailing of all relationships, then it had to be my fault and my failure and it had to be fixed… immediately. I would get so anxious about conflicts I would be unable to sleep or eat until they were resolved and I would turn myself inside out to do so.
Fast forward 3 decades and a lot of human interactions later, and I no longer harbor these beliefs. I embrace the notion that conflict is part of life, that some folks dislike each other, that “chemistry” between people is real and can be good, bad, neutral, and anything in between… and fluid. I’ve learned to tolerate the discomfort of conflict, but I still dislike it. Some people thrive on it – that initial adrenaline jolt of an attack, be it emotional or verbal, in writing, online, or in person, can be a thrill or even an addiction for some folks. Some people hate it enough to avoid it at all costs. And lots of people find themselves somewhere in the middle ground of tolerating it as I have learned to do, no longer internalizing all experience of conflict as my own personal failing to keep peace or be “nice” enough.
Yesterday I received a letter in the mail (yes, ink on paper with a stamp and everything!) that was a shot across the bow. The emotional equivalent of having a rock thrown at me, it didn’t hit me, but it did create that initial adrenaline jolt. Then I had to decide how to respond.
This morning, my ritual scroll through Instagram revealed a pretty big drama in the dog training world. Accusations, emotions, and stories tumbled forth from quite a few accounts I follow. I found myself trying to string together a narrative, a timeline. What happened, and what needs to happen next?
I walked my dogs and given my dogs’ penchant for drama, this took a couple of hours. I collected my thoughts. I tried to make a video, putting all my thoughts and experiences into words. I gave up after the 27th attempt got interrupted by some dog or other. I wondered if the universe was trying to tell me something and decided that if there was a message it was this: you’re a better writer than videographer. Go with your strengths. So here we are:
First, tell the truth. That’s where I start (for you yoga peeps, yes, we start at the beginning with satya – truthfulness). Telling the truth includes admitting when you’re wrong. Several years ago, I called someone out on social media for doing something dumb. I should not have. Call out culture can be really toxic and unkind. It can also be important and valuable. The trick is to decide carefully which is which and act accordingly. I didn’t. What I did was more along the lines of venting and complaining. I didn’t need to do that publicly and I definitely could have kept those opinions to myself, or shared with close friends. I believe at times, social media brings out the worst in humans, and this was definitely an example of that. The brief euphoria of catharsis was really not worth the ensuing years of name calling and other retaliation I received. I hope I can say “lesson learned” but to declare it so would be arrogant. I’ll just say “I was wrong.” That much is honest.
Second, doing nothing can be the best response to an attack. The letter I received? I believe no response would be positive: there is nothing I can say that would lead to learning, growth, reconciliation, or even détente. To respond in any way would simply feed the beast. However, the situation is such that I’m the only “victim.” No one else stands to be harmed. I can safely choose to do nothing because I can sleep at night knowing that I am not allowing a situation to continue in which innocent people may be at risk. For me, satya – truthfulness – informs and is informed by ahimsa – non-violence or doing no harm. I cannot choose inaction and allow a situation to continue in which others can be harmed. That goes against my ethics.
In the situation on Instagram, accusations of unprofessional behavior and bullying were central to the situation. There is the potential for harm. I applaud those that stepped forward. Validating the experiences of others and preventing future harm are ethical reponses. However, I still have real misgivings about “call out culture.” I worry about the weaponizing of accusations. I worry about bandwagoning, and the ability for reputations and careers to be destroyed, when accusations go viral. Ugliness and dishonesty can appear to be terribly sexy and charming, and I’m talking about both accusers and accused. It’s a bit of a minefield. Eliciting stories and gleaning fact from emotion is an important aspect of the whole process, and something that each person must do for themselves.
Third, there is a subculture in the social media dog training world that (and I’m dating myself here) reminds me of Howard Stern’s or Andrew Dice Clay’s popularity. Shocking, rude, denigrating, and derogatory language is seen as “badass,” and bravado is mistaken for honesty. I’ve heard trainers call people “fucking assholes” for disagreeing with them. I’ve watched trainers demand their followers do their marketing for them, and become nasty and abusive about it. While that approach can garner a lot of views, clicks, likes, and shares, what it doesn’t get is the “fucking assholes” who really need to learn and potentially do a better job with their dogs to access the wisdom and experience of the “badass” teacher. In general, people tend to learn when they are not actively being insulted or verbally abused. Much like dogs – they tend to learn when taught, not clobbered. The verbal clobbering is entertaining, sure, but what does it really say about the trainer?
Same goes for trainers who “complain” (aka gloat) that they have to fix other trainers mistakes. Putting others down, and complaining about other trainers or other training styles does not elevate you or yours. It just makes you look petty. Again, it can be entertaining, and the more unhinged the performance, the more clicks and shares, right?
But here’s the thing about making a reputation out of being nasty: at some point, that badass trainer who is so “honest” is going to insult you. Expect it. One day the reward you will reap for being a true believer is that something you believe or practice will be lampooned or insulted, and you will be the one getting called a fucking asshole. That bad boy persona that seemed so fun and engaging and refreshingly truthful is going to bite you in the butt.
I’ll end with a quick story: the other day the puppy destroyed my laptop charger while my husband was supposed to be watching her. I was furious and let him know. He defended himself vigorously, reminding me that bad things had happened on my watch too, and that “she was quiet” so he didn’t realize that he had to “keep his eyes glued to her at every moment.” Etc. All I had wanted was the acknowledgement – the apology and understanding that his mistake was going to inconvenience me and cost us money. Mistakes happen, but they can’t be forgiven when they are being so vigorously denied.
Maybe two days later, I was getting a baking dish out of a cabinet and I leaned on the door. The hinge ripped out of the side of the cabinet. I immediately said “I broke the cabinet door hinge. I’m sorry. It was my fault. I leaned on it and I shouldn’t have.” I was distracted and a little off balance, squatting and dealing with the large glass baking dish. And I immediately recognized that my moment of carelessness was going to mean time and effort by the hubby to fix the door.
Being angry at Blue Bathrobe Man (aka Thomasina, my beloved hubby) got me nowhere. We just argued, I cried, and he fixed the charger while I searched online for a replacement. But I am tentatively hopeful that maybe role modeling what I meant, when I apologized and owned my role in making work for him (side note – he immediately said “no, I used screws that were too short.” Well – they were holding just fine right up until I leaned on that thing.) was actually helpful. It wasn’t performative; it was genuine. But maybe he saw something in real time that he’ll be able to use in the future?
Where does this leave us? We all make our own choices about who we are, and who we want to be. We all choose our own heroes and teachers. And we all have to figure out how to navigate ugliness, drama, accusations, and the natural impulse to defend ourselves. My very best advice (although no one asked me) is as follows:
Tell the truth, even when it implicates you. Admit wrong doing. Acknowledge the impact of your actions upon others.
Trust initial impressions. That letter I received yesterday? I needed to take a second and give it real, honest, unemotional thought: what had I done wrong? What was my responsibility and what do I need to own? I should never have gotten involved in the first place, ten plus years ago. I had a bad feeling, a yucky “take” on the person who ushered me into the group. I should have honored that “gut sense” all those years ago and sidestepped the entire connection. I had my reasons for discounting that gut feeling, and ego numbers among those reasons. Again, I wish I could say “lesson learned” but it’s more honest and accurate to say “I see what I did and I forgive myself.”
Do not engage in a battle of wits with the unarmed. (I know, that’s not original.) But the point is well taken: don’t throw good time-effort-energy after bad. Step aside. Don’t bother to engage. Keep on scrolling. The folks who mailed me that letter? They don’t deserve my time, and probably can’t integrate any wisdom. Practice ignoring stuff on social media that is inaccurate, or provocative. Scroll on by.
Drama isn’t good or bad. People who create or gravitate towards drama aren’t good or bad. Drama happens. If you get off on it – go for it. You will find your tribe. If you hate it – learn to duck.
If someone shows you who they are (e.g. the “bad boys” of dog training -so badass with their “honesty” and f bombs) – believe them. Expect them to shine that light upon you.
Consider keeping your social media focused on who you are, not who you aren’t. Don’t put anything out there that conflicts with who you are or what you aspire to be. Don’t let stuff you dislike rent any space in your head or on your accounts.
When in doubts, wash all your dog bowls. Clean something. Wipe down a countertop. Do something to get out of your own head and make the world a tiny bit better.
And while I’m shoveling clichés at you all, let’s end with this one: try to be the person your dog believes you are.