Thursday, January 19, 2012

Practice Thursday—Kindness

I've kept this business card on my refrigerator for years (our fridge doors often become archives of our better selves, don't they?) I'd known of the Plato quote for a long time, but once I saw it coupled with this goofy dog, created by local artist Jesse Larsen, the exhortation seemed easier to take in, perhaps even to enact. 

A dog knows how to be kind, because kindness is her essential nature. A dog sets kindness as the default setting. 

Last year, my dog Abbe and I trained to be a Delta therapy dog team and passed the evaluation by the skin of our teeth (actually Abbe did great; it was me that almost got us flunked!). I had visions of us working together in nursing homes, hospitals, children’s programs, bringing comfort to those who need it. A simple act of kindness.

My dog is perfectly suited to this work: she trusts everyone, loves everyone, looks everyone deep in the eyes when she meets them. She knows how to simply be in someone’s presence. 

But now, months later, we’ve yet to volunteer anywhere, save for one disastrous stint in the library where children read to my dog. It turned out Abbe was quite ill (she would need surgery just a week later), and so she trembled and cowered in the corner, afraid to be pet. These children were already good readers, did not really need my dog and me, and so I left, knowing we wouldn’t return. 

Abbe, a day after surgery

Abbe, 2 weeks later
 After Abbe's surgery, I called a few places to rustle up other jobs, but no one called me back, and I gave up. 

And yet, Abbe now comes to work with me every day, sits in my office guarding the doorway, her tail thumping hopefully whenever anyone walks by. Students stop and squeal with delight; colleagues will get down on the floor. If I let her off the leash, she runs the length of the hall to seek our her best friends, nosing into offices that have no windows, no light. Everyone is always happy to see her. I bring her to class with me, and students who rarely smile, smile. They call to her, and Abbe sits under their chairs, gently snoring as our lessons progress.

In a world where so much of our communication is disembodied, I worry sometimes that we forget to be kind. Abbe is the embodiment of kindness, an ambassador. 

She reminds me to be kind to myself as well. It's been suggested more than once that I should create a pretty office hours sign for her—The Dog is In—placed just at snout level, as most people can receive much better counsel from her than they might from me. 
 (If anyone feels inspired to create such a sign, please feel free to send it to me!)

I started bringing her to work when she was a puppy, afraid to leave her too long at home alone. And I missed her. It was a selfish impulse, but one that has gradually turned a little more selfless. Now students I don’t even know will come by to seek Abbe out, and they bring their friends. They ask, Can I pet your dog? And I always say, That’s what she’s here for.


  1. First off, she looks absolutely pitiful in the after-surgery picture. I'm glad that she recovered well!

    Abbe is such a cheerful little creature, and I'm always glad when she's in class. I think she also makes a lot of students happy because we have dogs at home that we miss, and even though she's not our dog, she's still a very friendly dog that makes being a happier and kinder person that much easier.

  2. I love dogs, but I'm allergic to them. Fear not! you can still bring Abbe to class. I won't die if I pet her. My allergies are very mild, and even more mild in the winter cold. I'll just have to remember to wash my hands before I touch my face, otherwise itchiness ensues (sometimes). I haven't found a clear pattern.

    Since your blog post is about kindness, I think about times of emergency where people are forced out of their disembodied lives to take on their own bodies and look into one another's faces. We're so much more kind to one another in times of crisis. Facebook exploded in status updates thanking "that nice man" who helped us out of the icy slick we found ourselves in when we decided to drive to school in the snow.
    I like to think when Mother Nature wants to take us out, we band together in rebellion against her.

    But I don't think the internet brings out the worst in us (well, the majority of us). It's just so difficult to bring up an opposing idea in text without offending someone. We rely so heavily on body language and intonation during conversation to avoid stepping on toes, and I've found there is no amount of words that can equal the kind of "I'm testing the waters, so don't take offense to this" tone that saves us from sounding unkind.

  3. Dogs. Definitely the ambassadors of kindness. Even dogs that most people are scared of (like pit-bulls and dobermans)are actually very sweet if approached with an open heart. My mum always warned me about those dogs but I realized, after meeting one really sweet pit-bull, that the problem probably lies in myself rather than the animal. Of course, after a time, I realized too that my mom is afraid of EVERYTHING. It's hard living with her when I return home because of how often she warns and worries. That's another topic entirely though.

    It's great that you can take Abbe with you to work. She's probably a very healthy dog both physically, mentally, and emotionally.

  4. Thanks for your comments! I'm glad you find Abbe a welcome addition to class.

    Ashley, you bring up such a good point about the way kindness does win out when we need it most. I think of the extreme--9-11--when everyone, everywhere, seemed to be so tender with one another. Ideally it won't take such extreme conditions to nurture a kinder society in general.

  5. Abbe is a sweetheart. I'm sure her training will come in handy at just the right time.


What say you?