After months of the same routine, feeling a bit lonely and needing to shake things up, I decided the solution to the pandemic blues was to get a puppy.
One of the surprising and delightful things about a puppy is that she has forced me into the present; because no matter what I’m doing, whether paying attention to her or not, I’m still training her. If I ignore her and let her go about her business, she will conduct that business on the carpet with regularity and never learn that the outside is her toilet and the inside is for other things. However, if I pay attention and am consistent in my commands and expectations, she learns good habits quickly and the behaviors stick.
Puppy ownership has also made me reflect, each time she nudges my hand when I go to pick up my phone instead of playing with her, about my own adopted habits. Partially because of the nature of my job and partially because of being a human in 2021, I find that I’m extremely “online.” My mental and moral reflexes are constantly being trained by the social media I participate in and the platforms I interact with.
Watching internet pile-ons, I find myself making quick judgments about who should and should not be “cancelled” or fired, based on limited, second-hand knowledge of the circumstances and my own sympathies to the individual ideologically. Reading an impulsive tweet, I judge someone overly harshly for the “unenlightened” opinion they express, forgetting that I held a similar view at an earlier stage of life. I ignore the messes I’ve made, mere months ago, and condemn strangers, acquaintances, and friends for their visible, public messing “on the carpet” of the internet.
The lovely thing about humans is that, unlike dogs, we have the capacity to assess the habits we’ve formed as good or bad, and we can decide independently if we need to form new ones. We can retain a bit of self-skepticism when it comes to our own behaviors and judgments, and we can remind ourselves of the mistakes we’ve made and the ways in which we have grown and developed since then. We can remember that others also have the capability to learn and grow and seek to retrain our habits to help them along the way, instead of judge them and write them off.
I’m thankful for the reminder to reflect on my own “training” and the capacity to change in all of us, with a little help. Dogs have a bit of a set point in how much they can learn and develop, but thankfully we humans are always in process.