Friday, July 20, 2007

An Ethical Dilema

Morgan Dog has been a very bad basset hound. Although normally good natured and very well behaved, she has recently gone through a phase of chewing up things that matter to me. Well past her puppy days, she moved beyond her chew everything in sight stage some time ago. But in the last few weeks she has had several episodes of reverting to this unacceptable behavior.

Morgan is usually friendly, docile and easy to love. She plays fetch, goes for walks with me, and in many ways is a great canine companion. But then she ate my favorite shoes. Next she ate my scriptures. (I know we are commanded to "feast upon the word" but this is rediculous!) Last night, she ate my cell phone. She is now banished from the house and we are not speaking to one another.

I understand that as a person in relationship with an animal I have certain responsibilities for her care and training. In many respects I consider this beast to be a member of my family and I truly do cherish her. But this has got to stop. At what point do I say "ENOUGH! I will not put up with a dog that continues to destroy my property!"

I can't even imagine permanently exiling Morgan Dog. She brings so much laughter and joy into our house. But right now I'm not feeling very forgiving and the thought has crossed my mind that there are limits to how much of this I will tolerate.

So what does that say about me?

I am a sap to put up with dumb dog who tears up my stuff?
I am a lousy dog owner for not training her better?
I am a selfish meanie who only loves when all is well?

Frankly, I've never understood people who spend thousands of dollars and elaborate care on pets.

While I don't have much affinity for cats, I love dogs. But even the best of dogs ever there was, my trusty old Bojangles who I had for over a dozen years, got put down when he got old and infirm and became incontinent.

So what all this has brought up for me is the whole issue of what behaviors I will or won't tolerate not just from the animals in my life, but also the PEOPLE. What things do I overlook without saying anything? What things do I call someone out on? What things do I lay down the law over? What things are deal breakers that cause me to cut off all contact?

Which things that occur in relationships are worthy of forgiveness and which are not?

There's a lot of talk about "unconditional love." I've never experienced that. I never got it and I don't think I'm capable of giving it. I don't know if any human being is. My faith tells me that's the way God loves us, but it is a concept beyond my comprehension. To me, all loving has limits.

Some would argue that it can be a very loving thing to set limits. In most cases, I would agree. Where I struggle is in the more extreme cases. I've heard it said that a person can even choose to continue to hold love in their heart for someone who has caused them great pain, even if they must remove themselves from that individual for safety sake. But I know from experience that when I've been harmed or betrayed by people I trusted, my heart grows cold to them.

It's one thing to recognize that a relationship is not healthy and to remove myself from it, as I did when I left my first marriage. But what about how I interact with family or friends who become boring, annoying, hurt my feelings or simply have personalities I don't like despite having done no great crime? How loving am I letting myself be with them?

This silly dog of mine has got me thinking about issues of family, friends and forgiveness. The fury I felt over the tattered, mangled remains of the things she has destroyed has reminded me of the hurt and outrage I've felt over things various people have done, from a snide, thoughtless remark to social snubbing to more insidious harms. What is the appropriate response to those who cross the line?

I will put up with more from a sibling, a parent, a son or daughter than I will from a neighbor or chosen friend. I'll keep going back and back and back to try to repair the rift for family long after I would have cut all ties with someone I did not share blood. Why is that? Does this pattern make sense? Should I be extending myself further with unrelated people? Should I be extending myself less with those I am related to? What makes sense?

While I will generally tolerate disappointments, hurts and conflict from family that might cause me to cool a friendship, even with kin and clan there are limits.

I have family members now with whom I have little or no contact. I don't hate or rage against or resent them. I just no longer include them in my thoughts or actions.

Also, I do have "chosen family" that I've had some tough conflicts with, but have been able to get over big breaches to move on to renewed trust and caring. I don't just turn my back on someone the first time there are rough spots. But I recognize that I have been willing to let some relationships cool or fade away entirely because of something that was said or done, or not said or not done, that caused me to define the bond as not worth the cost. I'm taking a long hard look at that to see if I am satisfied with my role in what I've kept hold of and what I've let go.

One by one I've been sorting out what it means to me to have a connection to a person or pet - examining what I will put up with and what I will not. How much of myself am I willing to extend in each of these relationships and how much do I hold back? Where do I draw my lines? In some cases I can see where I need to lighten up and give people more grace. In other cases it is all too evident that it's high time I gave up expecting someone to be there for me in ways they've shown they can't or won't. So I'm looking at what all that means to my heart.

Today I will go buy some rawhide chews for the Basset Hound. We will begin again at teaching appropriate dog behavior in our household. The beast in definitely in big trouble. But she's my dog. I love her. And with or without a cell phone, my life would be diminished without my dog.

As for some of the people in my life - maybe I have some repair work to do there too.

1 comment:

Mimi said...

Wow. That is something to ponder indeed - unconditional love is really hard to wrap ones head around.

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