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Covering up the Poop

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Last week when driving to work, I passed a man and his cute little dog. Let’s call the dog “Buddy”.

When I saw Buddy he had just finished his morning poop, and his owner was bending over, plastic bag in hand.

Naturally enough, Buddy began kicking up dirt to cover his deed. Now I don’t know Buddy, but assuming he had pooped countless times before and had literally seen that poop disappear into a bag every time thereafter, why does he continue to attempt his doomed cover-up?

Pretty basic answer of course: Buddy is a dog, and dogs (like other animals) act the way they act instinctually -- it’s in their very nature. That is, Buddy can’t help it.

But Buddy got me thinking about similarities with us, human beings, and our own seemingly automatic behaviors and “I can’t help it” attitude that can accompany them. For instance:

--A wife screams after seeing a harmless spider, and then, embarrassingly, tells her on-looking husband: “You know I can’t help it! I’ve always been afraid of spiders.”

--A daughter asks her dad why he smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, and in response he says, “I can’t help it, I’ve been smoking since I was your age.”

--A police officer asks a bloody-faced woman why she went back to her abusive boyfriend’s apartment, to which she responds: “You know, I can’t help it. I love him.”

But can they actually help it? Can we -- grown men and women -- get rid of an irrational fear, quit a destructive habit, leave a dysfunctional (and potentially deadly!) relationship?

Yes, we can.

Unlike Buddy, we have choice: We are the only animal with the ability to consciously reject our fears, end our habits, leave our mates. But if we default on our volitional nature, change will seem out of our control and life itself will create its own path, with us as passengers merely along for the ride.

Now of course real change is not always easy, especially when it can feel impossible; and all the answers for one’s unique growth as an individual aren’t in some magical self-help book. But in the end, we are what we are by choice -- we are fundamentally different from Buddy -- so let’s get on with this chosen (and potentially fun!) life, always taking responsibility for our own business.

Jesse McCarthy is the founder of jemslife, an educational resource offering personalized teacher and parent coaching.

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