I was watching an epsiode of The Dog Whisperer this morning. A fellow in a wheelchair was having trouble with his dog who, though normally extremely sweet and compliant, had attacked and killed another dog in the household, his sister’s rather yappy miniature poodle who had admittedly harassed the larger dog a great deal. It seems there were a few very small signs the owner had missed: the curl of a tail, a certain over-attentiveness in the dog whenever exciting stimuli was present. He acknowledged that he had made some mistakes, and set about trying to change them.
Something hit me as I watched that. And by “hit me,” I mean the sensation you might experience if your car was struck by a semi.
All my life I have lived with either a fear of failure or an obsession over my past or current failings. When in the throes of depression, I have often said that I am a mistake, a waste of breath, that my whole being is a failure. Owing perhaps to my father’s extremely high standards for me, or to my Evangelical upbringing, where a sin, any sin, cut you off utterly from the glory of God (hence the necessity of salvation), failure was always tantamount to a death knell for me. It meant I was fundamentally Unacceptable, that the relationship was irretrievably broken.
I have worked a great deal on that notion over the years, and I have made some progress, though not enough. I have told myself repeatedly that there is no such thing as failure. There is only the trial-and-error of life. You have discovered one more thing that doesn’t work the way you had hoped, so you now have an opportunity to try a different path, a different methodology. Try something radically different, or tweak the old approach just a bit and try again. It’s like a recipe that wasn’t successful; what ingredients need to be changed, what techniques need to be refined, to create a more pleasing result? It’s life as America’s Test Kitchen.
On today’s show, the fellow is in a wheelchair due to some crippling disease, yet he is able to train and control pitbulls. He saw that something he had done inadvertently, something in the way he had trained (or failed to train) his dog had cost his sister’s dog its life, and even though everyone acknowledged it was really the other dog’s fault for instigating it, he wanted to learn how to keep anything like it from ever happening again. He had made a mistake, and he owned it, but despite the great sadness it had brought to the family, he neither got defensive nor became consumed with guilt. “The path I took ended badly,” he said. “Now I need to learn what I need to do differently.”
It was precisely the right balance.
My life is not a failure. I have made choices that have brought me here. I couldn’t have gotten here any other way, through any other choices. Here is a good place, mostly, but now I want to go there. I see where my previous beliefs and actions have taken me; now I need to make new beliefs, take different actions, in order to get me to someplace else.
See? Television isn’t a total waste!