I was bitten by a dog. Bad enough to draw blood. Enough that my hand still hurt the next day.
Without any other context, this sounds like it could be bad. Especially if you factor in that I tend to be really good with dogs. But where did your mind go with this information? First you were likely concerned for my well being (and I can assure you I’m just fine). Then you might be thinking about the dog. Maybe you think I was attacked. Maybe you think that this dog is dangerous. Perhaps you even want the dog put down, because if it would attack me, chances are it will attack someone else, right? What if it has rabies? What if my injuries are worse than I’m letting on? Maybe you feel a righteous anger at the dog, and by extension, the dog’s owner. Maybe you remember a time when YOU were attacked by a dog, and you remember that fear all too well…
Each one of you reading this has formed in their mind a picture of what happened. Each one will be different in the details. Some of you will be curious. Some will be vehemently coming down against the dog, calling for its destruction before it hurts anyone else. Some may have sympathy for the dog – because dogs rarely attack for no reason, right? So maybe the dog was only protecting itself or its property.
But I want you to notice something. I told a brief story, using a mere 20 words. And from those words you filled in facts and perceptions. You felt something. You filled in the whole story arc. And without knowing anything else, you were certain of how things transpired. And you probably felt pretty confident about your version of events… at least until you kept reading and wondered where I was going with this.
However, this exact scenario is something we do, and we do it often. We do it critically. We do it harshly. We get a single sentence from someone’s story, and almost instantaneously fill in a novel’s worth of facts, half-truths, emotional responses, and planned reactions or retribution. And if we’re lucky enough to find out the full story later on, almost without fail, we see we were wrong. Sometimes only partially, but usually radically and dramatically wrong. And yet, we do this over and over.
We’re story tellers. Usually we’re pretty terrible at it, creating our own version of events, knowing we’re doing this off extremely limited information. We pass judgment on others, when we see them having a moment. We put them in a box, smugly telling ourselves we’re not like them. We tell others how bad they are and how horribly they have wronged us. And should someone else do this to us, we raise righteous indignation, that someone would have the audacity to judge us without knowing the full truth. How dare they?
But yet the cycle repeats itself. Over. And over. And over. We claim we know better. And deep down, we do know better. But we can’t help it. So we point fingers. We judge. We gossip. We slander. We show the nasty side of being human… All because we think we know the whole story.
So what about the dog bite?
Yes, I was bitten by a dog. Our dog, in fact. In our back yard. Why? Not because he was mad at me. Not because he is a vicious animal. Not because I had been teasing him. Not because I was tormenting or abusing him. Not for any reason like that at all.
He bit me because I was trying to help him when he was in distress. He was overstimulated and freaking out. I was trying to help him settle down. And he did shortly after, and he was extremely sad and apologetic once he settled down. But in that one moment, when he was in distress, he lashed out at the one who was trying to help him.
In that moment, when he was needing gentleness, love, and support, is the moment at which you became his judge and jury.
And in this moment, right now, you’re probably thinking of countless faces and situations where you’ve done that to another human. And in this moment you’re probably feeling shame. And without being harsh, you should feel shame. I’m not saying that because this particular trait is one I’ve overcome. I’m saying it because we should feel shame when we act like this. And I say we, because I do it too. You’re not alone. And neither am I. You see, my dog merely wounded my flesh. We callously wound hearts.
I’m not saying I’m any better (or worse) a human than you are. I’m saying we know better. And I know we can do better. Because judging someone when they’re having a rough day, or rough year, is not the type of human I want to be, nor want to be around. And if you’re honest, you don’t either.
Let’s try to remember that a single sentence does not a story make.