I love starting my day by walking with a group of women that live around me. I love the exercise, but most of all I love learning from them. For example, most of these women own and love dogs. Often they bring their dogs along. Now, I’m not much of an animal lover. It isn’t that I don’t like animals or that I’m afraid of them. The problem is that I was raised by a mother who anytime I got near an animal shrieked, "Wash your hands. Don’t you know animals have germs." So I guess you can say I have an aversion to animals. At any rate as we walked I kept listening to these women complain about their dogs. The stories of dogs eating the family dinner, or dogs getting sick on the floor, or new puppies destroying furniture, or exorbitant fees from vets, or the time it takes to get the dog groomed, or dog accidents in the house, or dog hair on the carpet came up in various versions often. Every time I’d hear them talk I’d silently wonder if dogs were such a nuisance why they kept them around. I couldn’t figure it out.
Then one day a dog that had often walked with us died. Kathy, who belonged to the dog, was devastated. Part of her family had died. She cried and we comforted and grieved with her. As I observed the sorrow, I suddenly realized that there must be more to owning a dog than had been revealed to me in our morning conversations. So after a time, I expressed my observation that all I’d ever heard about the dogs was negative. Sharon countered quickly by saying that I just didn’t hear the good things. And all of them began to tell me everything they loved about their dogs. To be very honest, despite what Sharon said, that was the first time I’d heard the good things.
As I pondered on this experience I learned two things. One is that often in life we vent to friends and those around us about the negative things in our lives and forget to bring up the good. In this way we pass on some unintentional negative feelings. How many times do we complain about our children or a work situation or another person and leave our listener with the impression that what we are complaining about is totally terrible when we don’t really think that at all? We’re just venting or even just telling a story. The other thing I realized is that the dog lovers in the group heard the stories very differently than I did. When they heard a story of a dog eating the family’s dinner they detected a note of love in the voice that countered the negative part of the story because they were hearing the story from a different perspective. In short, I’ve learned to watch to make sure I express the positive as well as the negative and that I don’t leave a wrong impression. After all I wouldn’t want someone to not have children because all they heard from me was complaints about my kids or to not go on for higher education because I complained about the work load. I’ve also learned to listen for the tone that conveys the love even in the complaints. As I’ve done this, I’ve been surprised to discover how often it is there!