I was just beginning to drift off to sleep a few minutes before midnight when I was startled by a domestic disturbance coming from a house nearby. I did what any self-respecting Rottweiler owner would do; I put Legend on her leash and took her outside to investigate! With my 106 lb. puppy in the lead, we walked down to the street to investigate. All was quite.
I decided the ruckus must be over, so I turned back toward the house. But Legend had picked up a scent and was intent on investigating. Given the late hour (and not wanting the occupants of the house to discover me lurking outside their place) I whispered for Legend to “leave it” and gave a gentle tug on her leash. Legend was intent on sniffing out the trail she had discovered, and she did not respond to my wimpy command. In my fear of being discovered, I reacted by jerking on her leash with all 245 lbs. of my being.
In all honesty, a good 25 lbs. of my being are the result of too many visits to Max’s Donuts, and a habit of overdosing on popcorn and M&Ms. But there is also a fair amount of muscle hidden beneath my extra pounds. I have no idea how much force I exerted on that leash, but what happened next provided some insight into that topic.
My jerk reaction was sufficiently powerful enough to bend the metal ring on Legend’s collar, setting free the heavy-duty metal clasp on the end of the leash. It all happened in a flash. I heard the “pop” of the clasp breaking free and noticed the street light reflecting off the shiny chrome missile heading straight at me! In a fraction of a second that clasp traveled the 10 feet between me and Legend. The thick hoodie I had thrown on while rushing out the door provided little cushion from the force of that clasp. It felt like I had been shot in the gut.
Several thoughts instantly raced through my mind as Legend continued sniffing the ground, oblivious to the entire incident: Man that hurts! I really don’t like my dog right now. If I start beating my dog, is anyone awake to capture it on video? Wow, that really hurts.
Fortunately I did not respond in a bad way, as a few seconds later two police SUVs pulled up in front of me. That distracted Legend from the trail she had been exploring and she walked over to me. I held Legend by the collar and pointed toward the house I assumed the police were investigating. Thankfully, they were not there looking for me! Legend and I made it back home undetected by any neighbors.
When I got back inside, I checked out the damage caused by my overreaction. The impact from the clasp had peeled back a few layers of skin, resulting in a painful looking “strawberry.” But that was just the immediately visible damage. About five days later the full level of bruising was evident, and it was much larger than the point of impact. Additionally, a hard knot developed on the deeper muscle, and it remains there almost three weeks after the incident.
You can learn a lot about relationships from a shot in the gut. The damage caused by an overreaction is much deeper, and longer lasting, than we may see (especially us parents). Sometimes we resort to a show of force to affect someone’s behavior. We yell, threaten, shame, manipulate, or bully others into doing what we want them to do. We might succeed in getting our way in the moment, but we cause harm at a much deeper level.
We wonder why people don’t want to be around us, why they don’t talk to us, why they’re not interested in our ideas or advice. We’re puzzled why we don’t have closer relationships. We wonder what’s wrong with them.
A more productive question might be, “Have I done something to cause this?” Has my show of force resulted in others avoiding, withdrawing from, being embarrassed by or distancing themselves from me?
My recent midnight experience reminded me that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Perhaps a gentle approach would have been less painful, and more effective. You may find that to be true as well.