Strong As A Lion, Gentle As A Lamb
I remember that the horses taught me an important skill during our riding lessons. There were times when I was challenged as a rider, and this put me in a conflict with the horse. My responsibility was to assert my leadership during those circumstances. In doing so, I had to be as strong as a lion, so that the horse could not get away with bad behavior or dominance. Yet I also had to be gentle as a lamb, so that I was instilling love and trust at the same time. The balance always worked on them, yet applying this approach with people has been difficult.
Generally, I try to avoid conflict. There are instances when I have stood up for myself, but it is not as common. The reason for my avoidance, is that there is often a harsh tone of voice involved in these matters. Most people would perceive my reaction as sensitive, yet allow me to explain exactly what happens. When an angry tone is involved in the conflict, my sensory alarms go off. My ears are shocked, then at the same time I am trying to process the words and the emotions. Usually the person’s rant is ongoing, so they will be on point C, while I’m still trying to understand point A. As a result, my thoughts become scattered and the emotions heighten too. Therefore, if I try to respond to the conflict, I come across as an emotional wreck. This reaction is not something I like to display publicly, so I have often resorted to shutting down and avoiding the conflict completely. As one would predict, unresolved conflict has caused me to be resentful towards people that I know. Yet a step to changing that cycle was made last Saturday.
I was on a walk in my neighborhood, and found myself being stopped by one of the residents. He asked me where my dog was. At the time I did not think anything of it, since most of the people in my neighborhood often see me walking Shiloh. I told him that she was at home and proceeded to keep walking.
“Well she’s kind of mean,” he said.
That shocked me enough to stop me in my tracks. “She’s more territorial if anything,” I responded in a calm tone despite the spark of temper. “She used to be mean, but she’s not like that anymore.”
He must have perceived my response as denial, because I have never seen someone go from cold and condescending, to hot and confrontational in a matter of seconds. He told me that during a time that I was not around, Shiloh had snapped her teeth and lunged towards him during a bike ride. Now in my dog’s defense, she was on a leash and did not bite him. Yet I can understand why this man would be intimidated, because Shiloh has an intense aggressive reaction towards bicycles, and it is triggered by fear. I do not condone this type of behavior, and retraining her to be tolerant of bikes is a work of progress. However, the man’s delivery was off, he also proceeded to lecture me on how to correct Shiloh’s behavior around bikes. Let’s just say that I did not agree with his method. In all fairness, he has not seen the progress that Shiloh has made in other areas, so I did not believe that he had a say in how she should be trained.
At that point, my emotions were ready to explode and I felt that it was best for me to leave. So, I respectfully apologized to him and assured him that my family and I were working with the problem. He was not done yet, and made a point to tell me that every rescue dog he meets is crazy. Usually I would have left by then, but that made me stop again. I was not going to tolerate the insults against Shiloh and other rescue dogs. To be perfectly clear, I have nothing against anyone who purchases a dog from a responsible breeder. The decision to add a pet to the family is life changing, so it is important that the parties involved choose the best option. Yet I tend to advocate for rescue dogs as much as possible, and stances like his can be a deterrent for adoption. I did not expect his perspective to change, but was motivated to take a stand for something that I believe in.
Rather than walk away or react negatively, I took the lion and lamb approach. I assertively yet calmly explained to him about Shiloh’s fear of bikes, as well as some background information on rescues. I emphasized that these dogs often come from unfortunate circumstances, therefore they lack the necessary training that is essential during the most crucial years of their life. Retraining them is possible, but it is often daunting because a rescue dog has to be deprogrammed from old habits, and reprogrammed with new ones. This process often takes copious amounts of time, consistency and lots of patience. I am sure that there are exceptions, but anyone who has or had the same experience, would understand where I am coming from.
Anyway, I noticed the shift in the atmosphere immediately. We started to calm down, and the confrontation disappeared. As I predicted, the man’s opinion of rescue dogs did not change, even though he suddenly claimed how wonderful it was for dogs to be rescued, and seemed to transition from lecturing to supporting my family’s efforts to train Shiloh. I am not entirely sure how genuine that is, since he seems to have an on and off switch. Yet the point was not for minds to be changed, it was to resolve a conflict by calming the environment and I am happy to say that it worked.
I am grateful to all of the horses for teaching me the lion and lamb approach, because I would not have thought to use it during this type of situation. That lesson turned out to be a blessing for me, because it is something that I can use as a tool in overcoming my challenges with conflicts. This process will not be easy for me, but I have learned that it is possible. So, to anyone out there who is facing problems with conflict resolution, I am right there with you. Keep working on it and stand up for what you believe in! Thank you and may you find blessings in all that you do.