“It’s better to face what you fear rather than focusing on the fear of what you might face!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
She’s a 2-year-old rescue dog, born during the pandemic, and unfortunately during the early days of her life, spending too much of her time locked away inside. It was only when Chris (pictured) and his partner Bianca rescued her that she discovered the outdoors.
And in time, me.
My wife and I moved from our home of 32 years into a new home in a new city last year; my backyard opens up directly to a wonderful forest and a fairly massive park. When I’m not traveling, each morning, right after writing my Daily Inspiration post, I head out on a 7km walk – straight out my back door to watch the sun come up. Part of my route has me walking along a ‘dog park’ area; it’s a trail provided specifically for some off-leash walking. Later in the day, it’s full of people and their pets; during my early morning jaunt, there are only a few people out on the trail with their dogs.
Including Aurora, this young, quite enthusiastic Doberman.
Our first encounters did not go so well; I carried a lot of baggage into the relationship early on.
Let me say this: although I am not a dog owner, I like dogs, and enjoy the joy that it brings to their owners. I also get quite a kick out of watching the behavior of various dogs and breeds in the park during my walk. I’ve long thought that the different behaviors I see might parallel the behavior of different groups of people in the corporate space.
But Aurora? She scared me. Our early encounters were quite stressful – she didn’t seem to take kindly to me, barking at me with what I interpreted to be some aggression. I would see her and either Christ or Bianca or both of them together with Aurora off in the distance, beginning to approach, and I would tense up. Aurora would come running towards me, often barking more as she got closer. It was very stressful for me; and most likely, for Aurora.
What was going on?
Last May, I was attacked and bit by a different dog just steps away from our ski chalet. The attack was aggressive; the wound was deep as the flesh was pierced. Fortunately, both I and the neighbor’s dog had our ‘shots,’ and the various public health authorities and medical personnel who became involved determined that I would be ok. But it clearly impacted me. I noticed this a few days into my regular morning walk; the next few times I was out. I suddenly found myself worrying about any dog that might approach me. instead of offering a hand of recognition so that they might smell me, I kept my hand back. Instead of acknowledging any particular dog, I went quiet. My gait quicked; my stress level rose; my worry began to increase. Rather than observing different dog behaviors, I think I began to look for signs of aggression.
Particularly with Aurora.
We had a few encounters along the way; she would run at me, barking. I would tense up, worried, and stressed.
And one day, I decided to take matters on and resolve the situation.
What did I do? I yelled at Chris and Bianca.
When Aurora barked at me that day, I yelled – quite loudly. Consider this – they were out together for what they had probably planned to be a lovely morning walk, mostly in a leash-free zone, and now found themselves on the receiving end of a rather rude series of comments. I suggested their dog was not well-behaved, and that they needed to do better. Chris made a pointed comment that perhaps I was reacting too harshly; I think he mentioned some sort of PTSD. I marched onwards.
The next few walks, in my usual tensed-up form, I kept a wary eye out for Aurora – and did not see her or her owners for quite some time. I began to think the situation through in my mind, and started to think I was in the wrong; I had overreacted. I also knew that someone we would need to reach some sort of detente – I was going to be out there, and Aurora was going to be out there, so we might as well learn how to co-exist. I began to run my comments and reaction through my mind though and decided once again that if I would see them, I would again take some direct action.
I would apologize for my behavior.
And I did. One day the usual happened; I saw them in the distance. I tensed up, Aurora barked, and Chris and Bianca continued their way warily towards me, perhaps warily, probably expecting another tirade.
“Look, I’m really not a jerk,” I remember saying. “I’m actually a nice guy. It’s just…..” And I proceeded to explain what had happened to me months before.
I must admit now that I could not have met a nicer couple. Chris called Aurora over and held her close to me; she sniffed; I smiled warily. We continued talking, and they were sympathetic to my situation. They explained more about Aurora and I became sympathetic to her situation. A rather young Doberman – still very much a pup at 2 – she had not had the chance during the early part of Covid to become accustomed to having many people around. I too was learning – perhaps I really might have developed some sort of dog-related PTSD as a result of my previous attack.
So we talked. And every time we met, we talked a bit more. And over time, Aurora’s behavior towards me changed – basically, ignoring me – most certainly, because I changed. In deciding to confront my fear, perhaps I had managed to significantly reduce my fear and move on. And no doubt Aurora sensed this.
Yesterday was indicative of the new relationship that Aurora and I now have. 2/3 of my walk through my walk, I could see her and Chris off in the distance. She ran towards me; I shouted her name in recognition; she ran at a gallop towards me and … ran right past me. No barking, no acknowledgment of me, totally involved in her moment of dog-joy running free on a trail.
What a wonderful moment!
I think we’ve moved on! Our relationship is now rather successful!
What does all of this have to do with the future, change, innovation, and disruption – the stuff I focus on with my stage work? Not a lot, but EVERYTHING.
So much of moving forward with the future involves dealing with new and unusual situations; people are not comfortable in the new zones in which they find themselves. Among the many reactions that emerge that cause people to battle back against the future, fear is one of the most common. I will often note on stage that while some people accept the future and look at is an opportunity, others view it with fear and as a result, see it as a threat. Fear of failure can hold us back from trying new ideas; fear can cause us to oppose those ideas; fear can put us into a mindset where we automatically recoil from any approaching trend because we have developed some sort of future-related PTSD.
I’ve learned a lot through this experience, though I am not quite sure yet fully what. I also know that I have met and made delightful new friends. The more I learn about Chris and Bianca, the more I realize I have discovered a lovely young couple. As someone who has never owned a dog, I have come to learn that a pet is very much a part of the family of the owner, and I can appreciate the shock that must ensue when that relationship is challenged!
I’ll head out on my walk shortly after finishing this post; perhaps I will meet Aurora again today. If not, the next. She will mostly ignore me as she revels in her doggy-joy; I will take pride in mostly managing and overcoming my fear after a rather traumatic circumstance with my dog bite; and the sun will rise in splendor.
And life will go on, fear not totally vanquished, but powerful lessons learned.