This morning I went for a run with a wonderful hound dog named Boo. Her floppy ears, gravity-challenged jowls, and dopey, dew-drop eyes make her insanely adorable. As much as I love Boo, I became increasingly frustrated with her during the course of our run. She usually strides along quite well, keeping pace with me like a sidecar on a motorcycle. Every so often, though, Boo lunges toward the trees with such force that she catapults me off my feet like a human slingshot. Because I tie the leash around my waist, this tends to be a slightly painful experience, somewhat akin to the Heimlich maneuver. This particular morning, Boo lunged more often than usual. I was agitated by the fact that her incessant pulling was messing with the “zen” of my run. After a solid twenty minutes of mild internal fuming, I realized that I was upset with Boo because she was trying to chase down every critter along the road, which is what hunting dogs are bred to do. I was upset because Boo was behaving like a dog, according to her inner nature. And then I had an epiphany: how many times do I become frustrated simply because people are behaving according to their nature? How much time and energy do I waste wishing and hoping that people might behave differently? And here’s the ringer: how often do I change my own behavior in an attempt to control someone’s reaction?
I have finally realized (and I am learning to act on this realization) that it is not my responsibility to modify my own behavior to influence someone else’s. People (and dogs :-)) will react according to their inner nature 99% of the time. An angry person will respond with anger, just like my adorable hound dog reacted to the critters according to her inner nature: she chased after them like a hound dog should. Do you have a boss who is always fuming and whom you can never quite please? He’s just acting according to his nature, and it’s not your job to change his attitude. It’s your job to do your best regardless of the atmosphere, regardless of the consequences. Every time that I relinquish my desire to control outcomes in situations and reactions in people, all the stress in my life dissipates. It’s quite lovely. I’m amazed at how much emotional energy I can free up by refusing to assume responsibility for people’s reactions. Along with extra energy, another benefit is that I feel more empowered to be myself and to say what I mean. I no longer have to calculate and plan out my words in a vain attempt to influence someone’s response. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Seuss sums this up beautifully: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” I must admit, I didn’t really understand this quote until today. Who would have thought that a floppy-eared hound dog could be such an amazing teacher?