This was originally posted in 2017, but I’ve told the story twice in the last week and decided to resurrect it for such a time as this.
For the last year we’ve been dog owners, and every night, whoever is the last one upstairs puts the dog in his kennel for the night. Every time my daughter puts him to bed, she comes downstairs to her own bed feeling badly.
“Aw…Zip looked so sad,” she laments, “his tail stopped wagging and he looked at me with big sad eyes.”
“How do you know he’s sad, babe? Maybe he’s relieved to be going to bed?”
“No, he’s sad,” she assures me, “I can tell by the way he walks in and lays down and looks at me.”
My daughter and I have very different views of bedtime. I love an evening routine and an early bedtime hour. I get to unwind, embrace the completion of a day well spent, and cozy up to the warmth radiating from my husband next to me.
My daughter doesn’t like to go to bed. She doesn’t like the dark, doesn’t fall asleep quickly, and doesn’t want to sleep alone.
So when we take our dog to his bed each night, I think I’m doing him a favor…and my daughter thinks she’s hurting his feelings.
So what’s going on here?
If someone gave me a comfy, dark and quiet place as respite for the day, I’m happy….so I see our dog as happy. If someone gave my daughter the same, she feels sad…so she sees our dog as sad.
So is the dog sad, or is he happy? What is the truth?
This is what my 8-year-daughter asked me to which I replied, “I guess we’ll have to ask the dog.”
Clearly, it depends on who you ask.
How you and I frame the world – what we believe, value, how we see ourselves and how we think the world works – is what we project onto the world.
We see things as we are.
If we hold a belief of brokenness and a need for fixing or saving, the world will start putting forth people or circumstances that appear to need fixed or saved.
If there’s an underlying belief that worth is attached to performance, then the world will look full of others who are succeeding exceptionally well.
If it’s about injustice, lo and behold the world will spit out offenders before our eyes.
The brain is designed to focus in on whatever it’s looking for, so becoming aware of inner thoughts and perceptions, and focusing on the facts, helps uncover the truth there.
People often recognize and call out things in others and in circumstances that they are ourselves, whether it’s the truth or not.
If projecting our inner state onto our pets happens, think about what we may be projecting onto our children, parents. Onto our students, teachers. Onto our employees, bosses. Onto our neighbors, friends.
When awareness becomes everyday practice we can get out of our own way and…
See things with new eyes
Ask neutral and powerful questions to understand
Get a clearer picture of what’s true
Up for a challenge? For a designated time, pay attention to what you see and talk about. Listen for your filter. What keeps coming up?
Why am I pointing this out?
What about this matters to me?
Where am I projecting what I believe instead of being open to what really is?
Awareness has the power to change our wellbeing, and the more well we each become, the more the collective world heals for our children, students, co-workers, and friends.
Reflect: What emotion do you see in the picture of the dog?