A lifetime ago, when I worked in the corporate world, interruptions usually meant stopping, listening to a complaint or problem, taking note of it, and taking action in the hours or days to come. At worst, I'd be able to finish whatever task I was working on, and THEN deal with the problem "immediately."
When I went back to writing and editing, Nils knew better than to pull me from my writing cave, so interruptions came in the form of text messages or emails (even if he was in the next room). If it was really important, a note was slipped under my office door, e.g., "I'm getting really hungry and dinner is getting cold!" I could pretty much pick and choose my moments of interruption.
But here on the farm, interruptions take a whole different form. Most of the time there's no "I'll just finish this thought!" or "I'll get back to you in a moment."
Just this past week:
- Sitting at the computer, Kazu's lying at my feet, chewing away at a rawhide bone. EXCEPT, she hasn't been given a rawhide bone in a long time. I lean back in my chair, cringe, and look beneath. She's gingerly nipping off and spitting out feathers from what appears to have been a young sparrow. Rear back in horror. "Oh My Gawd!" Dog goes running, tail between legs. Grab wad of paper towels. Scoop up dead bird. Contemplate burying it. Conclude that the dogs will dig it up. Keeping at arm's length, carry the poor dead thing across the farm. Throw it over the fence where the dogs won't get to it again. Return to office. Pick out down, feathers, and what might be beak (I didn't look that closely) stuck in carpet. Is that blood or dog saliva on the carpeting? Get the cleaning solution and the vacuum cleaner from the terrace. Pick up vacuum cleaner hose, and concrete bits and paint chips pour out onto the carpet. Someone used the vacuum cleaner in the construction area of the house! Vacuum cleaner must be thoroughly cleaned, in addition to much of the carpet. A whole-afternoon-long event.
- Sitting at the computer, I look out toward the back of the farm where Nils, a neighbor, and staff are burning firebreaks. They've already burned on the upper farm behind the house. I spy several curlicues of smoke rising from areas they've long ago finished. It could just be the last smolderings. It could be. And then again. … I watch. The curlicues aren't diminishing. I think they're getting bigger. A fire hazard? Might be. Nils and the staff are now down at the other end of the farm. I get up. Squeeze through sliding glass doors so the dogs don't escape the house — they're already in a panic over the fire. Go to the shed next to the house. Look for a fire beater. Nothing. Must be in the workshop on the other side of the farm. Walk back to house. Squeeze back through sliding glass doors. Change fake Crocs to thick-soled hiking boots. Can always stamp out a small fire in the grass. Walk across yard to curlicues. No grass or veldt burning. It's large piles of cow poo! Pull out unburnt grass around flaming cow poo. Nothing but my feet to stamp out poo. Sigh. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Drag feet back to house with hope that most cow poo will come off. No joy. Remove boots. Go to garden spigot to wash poo out of deeply carved soles. Garden hose no longer connected to the spigot. Garden hose nowhere to be found. Sit on potato box, rip branch off of apple tree. Spend next half-hour scraping cow poo out of crevices in boot soles.
- Sitting at the computer. The damned guinea fowl are going at it again. They make such a racket for no apparent reason. I refuse to be interrupted. Later that afternoon, we discover one of our Austraulope chickens is missing, likely taken by a raptor. The guinea fowl tried to tell me; I didn't listen. And they DO make a gawd-awful noise (turn down your volume before clicking below):
- Sitting at the computer. I hear Solo leap up from his "guard post" at the back door. "Rar, rar, rar, rar, rar, rar, rar." Not unusual for him. He barks at lots of things. But, this time, he's persistent. Learned my lesson days before with the loss of a chicken. Go out to terrace. Can't see what he's barking at. Walk across the orchard. The donkeys are at the fence, teasing Solo as they are apt to do. No big deal. Head back toward house. I haven't checked the tomatoes in a couple of days. A slight detour to the vegetable garden. Pick a few ripe tomatoes. We really haven't been taking very good care of the garden. Pull weeds. Pick the last of the season's beans. The raised bed meant for cauliflower, broccoli, and winter lettuce has become overgrown again. Pick out last season's plants. Pick out weeds. The afternoon passes.
With all this in mind, not to mention the periodic vomiting dogs, exploding forgotten boiling eggs, or clever escaping cattle that must be herded back into their paddocks, I'm now quite proud that I've managed to write this much today.
But, the dogs are awfully quiet, the birds and donkeys, too. This could mean trouble. Must go!
It's been several weeks. You'd think I'd be over it. But, as a huge advocate of good communication, it disturbs me when someone understands the complete opposite of what I intended.
By no means am I above bungling communicating my thoughts, but I've come to realize that in this case, I had only two of the three "elements" necessary for communication: 1. I had a sender (me), and 2. I had a message. But in order to have communication, one must also have 3. a recipient. The "recipient" was there physically, but the recipient had already determined what it was I was going to say and what my intention was. As a result, there was No recipient to my message.
I've thought about going back to clarify, but this is a case of "someone will hear only what they want to hear." I remain hopeful that this misunderstanding won't continue to be a wedge between us, but today I finally remembered the sage tenets of Osmo Wiio, a Finnish researcher who devoted many years to research in the area of human communication, and I think I can now Let. It. Go. One of his best known documentations on the subject has come to be called "Wiio Laws."*
If you haven't yet discovered the work of Professor Wiio, I gladly provide this synopsis of his points that I find most salient:
- Communication usually fails, except by accident.
- If communication can fail, it will.
- If communication cannot fail, it still most usually fails.
- If communication seems to succeed in the intended way, there must be a misunderstanding.
- If you are satisfied that your message will communicate successfully, it will most certainly fail.
- If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in the manner that does the most harm.
- There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant by your message.
- The more communication there is, the more difficult it is for communication to succeed.
Sometimes — thankfully, not often — this just makes so much sense. This is one of those times.
*A parallel to "Murphy's Laws"
If you've been following us here and on Facebook, you know that we have two rescue dogs in our family. You also know that they are most precious to us. You also know that they are two real handfuls.
I won't say that adopting rescue animals is for everyone, but I can say that if you're willing to put in some work, you'll get back in return a hundred-fold.
The greatest challenges that have come up for Nils and me in raising Solo and Kazu relate to the belief systems they acquired prior to our adoptions.
Solo's Belief System
Sad to say, Solo was abused. Based on his initial behavior, we are certain that he was abused by both white and black men, and tormented by other dogs. In his reality, anyone who carried a big stick, or a tool with a long handle was a threat, and he would react as any proper Aussie Cattle Dog would — with aggression. Based on what we'd experience with him, combined with a few hints we'd heard about his previous home, we believe that he was chained up in a yard with other dogs that were free to attack him. As a result, whenever he was put on a lead in the company of other dogs, he would go ballistic. It took us a long time to break him of these "beliefs", but little by little, he re-learned, and became more and more comfortable with different people, situations, and even some dogs.
The downside of his comfort became that he wouldn't let us out of his sight, and was scared out of his wits when we would leave the farm. It was heart-warming in many ways because it was clear that he'd grown to love and trust us. But as we'd try to leave, he'd wrap his front legs around either Nils' or my leg, and would bite at our pant legs to keep us home — it was as though he was begging us not to abandon him. After one or the other of us would peel him away, we'd squeeze through the farm gate, close it behind us, and try to ignore the pitiful whimpering. As we'd drive off, we'd watch him through the rear-view mirror trying to dig under the fence. I eventually learned to just stare straight ahead or squeeze my eyes tightly shut. In Solo's reality, each time we went out of that gate, we were abandoning him.
Thankfully, that too has passed, and he now lets us leave — a sad look in his eyes, but no drama.
Kazu's Belief System
In Kazu's case, she came to us at a younger age, and, as far as we could tell, did not come from an abusive home. However, she did spend at least a couple of her six months of life at the SPCA in the company of many other dogs. As a result, Kazu has deep-seated food issues. It's clear that there were many others with whom she had to compete. When she came to us, she constantly sought out food or food scraps; she ate everything and anything (and I really DO mean anything) she came across. Unfortunately, we haven't yet made as much progress as I would hope in six months time, but she's gotten better (at least she doesn't eat EVERY frog she comes across, nor EVERY cow pattie). So, there's been some shifts in her beliefs and fears of starvations.
Now there are some who will say that dogs (or any other animals for that matter) do not have consciousness and are incapable of belief systems. I argue that anyone who's spent any quality, loving time with animals knows with certainty that they have a consciousness, and develop their own belief systems. For what is a belief system but a set of precepts that govern our thoughts and actions.
How Their Limiting Belief Systems Don't Work Anymore
Solo's belief system included "Big men with sticks will hurt me, I must protect myself and attack", "When I'm put on a lead, I won't be allowed to protect myself," "If I let these people out of my sight, they will abandon me." At a time in the past, these were all beliefs that served Solo well; they were true beliefs and reality. However, once he left that environment, he couldn't so easily leave those beliefs behind. But in a different environment, they became truly negative limiting beliefs creating behaviors that could have turned into self-fulfilling prophecies. There was a period of time when we weren't so sure if Solo would ever calm down; there were moments when we considered giving him up; we even wondered if having him put down would be best to ease his suffering. Brief moments came when we, indeed, considered "abandoning" him.
In Kazu's case, her beliefs and fears of never eating again probably served her well while she was in the SPCA. Because of her beliefs, she likely fought harder to get to the food bowls to get her share. However, today, these fears are no longer valid, and certainly no longer serve her. Quite the contrary. When she eats EVERYTHING, her stomach will reject, and she has had more than her share of a runny tummy; I have had more than my share of early morning clean-ups.
Are WE Any Different?
Are these situations with Solo and Kazu really any different than what you and I have experienced with our own belief systems?
- Do you keep up certain habits or behaviors "just because", even if those habits or behaviors are way beyond their "expiry date"?
- Haven't you ever thought, "I'm not good enough (smart enough, tough enough, pretty enough, creative enough)", and so not tried?
- Maybe you've said, "S/he's going to reject me (fight back, create a scene), so I'll do it to him/her first!", and done something stupid?
- How about "Others can do it better (nicer, prettier, more perfectly) than I can", so you don't bother?
- Perhaps, "If I go, people will laugh at me (ignore me, not care if I'm there or not)", so you don't go even though you really want to?
- Ever said to yourself, "If I get involved, I'll only get hurt (angry, upset, rejected)", so you justify not making an effort?
- Are you still holding onto beliefs that might've served you very well long ago, but that are keeping you back now?
If any of these resonate or ring familiar, consider:
If Solo and Kazu can change their belief systems, so can you!