Friday, November 13, 2009

A Bleeding Heart Weighs In

I've always thought of myself as a bit of a bleeding heart. I'm that person that will catch spiders and put them outside instead of smashing them, and I could probably never set a mouse trap in my house (though there'll probably never be a need as my dogs rival cats as mousers), but then I'll come by a true Bleeding Heart and realize I'm really just a Bleeding Heart Lite. This observation started with observing various dog owners.

As a dog owner myself I have some idea as to their tendencies and how one goes about having a home open to dogs. Admittedly, I have stricter expectations of my dogs than other dog owners but I don't find that to be a big deal. If you want the kind of dog that jumps on you, dirties your furniture, and basically runs rough shod over your home fine, it's your dog, it's your prerogative to have any kind of dog that you choose. But when your explanation for tolerance of a dog getting more space in your bed than you do is "I just hate the thought of my dog feeling bad" that's when I know it actually has nothing to do with the dog. That immediately tells me that you are not thinking about the nature of a dog but anthropomorphizing. You've just given your dog your own value system.

Don't get me wrong, I fully understand that dogs can find infinite joy in bounding upon their owners, claiming each soft, comfy spot in the house as their own and basically owning their owners. I also understand that a dog doesn't feel bad when it has rules. Dogs live by rules, they live by having a leader and knowing where they belong in the pack. Whether they run the pack or live by a certain set of rules within the pack they are just as happy; they understand the rules and live by them. That is happiness for a dog.

So as I was thinking about this it got me to wondering what kind of Bleeding Heart I am. Is the difference between Lite and Extra-strength understanding the difference between your own value system and that of others? Let's think of those spiders I catch as a simple example. Does BH Extra-Strength leave the spider in place to avoid making it feel bad and then BH Lite thinks, spiders like to build webs in my front yard so why don't I put it out there? I'm not totally sure, and I bet the various types of Bleeding Hearts have widely different views on spiders (they are creepy and crawly after all) but this got me thinking even more (don't worry, I'll lie down for a rest soon so as not to over-tax the brain) and my mind started to spiral around to that thorny issue of humanitarian issues that we here at sgwordy have visited before.

Since the self is a person's most consistent point of reference I think (pun?) it's a most human tendency to assume that what is good for us is good for others. In fact, if there's one thing I've learned in the fun that is traveling the world it's that we're all more alike than you'd think. At the end of the day, we want health, happiness, safety, diversion, and security for our families. But even amidst these most binding of common traits humans are vastly different. Our value systems are extremely diverse and shaped by culture, tradition, environment, terrain, availbility of resources, politics, education, religion, the list goes on... And it is those differing value systems that can so often muck up our ability to truly relate to and unite with our global compatriots.

And so from this winding road in my brain that started with hearing someone talk about letting their dog have most of the bed and analyzing my own bleeding heart tendencies as they relate to spiders, I have reached this conclusion: it is good to understand various value systems.

I know, very profound - and stated with such verve and eloquence. Let's take a moment.

In seriousness we must go one step further. Not only do we need to understand the value systems of those around us but we need to understand that they have as much worth and legitimacy as our own. I wonder how many of my interpersonal interactions might have been different if I'd always remembered this?

Is this taken into consideration when implementing humanitarian relief? Is this understood by my own beloved government when stomping about with a gun in someone else's country? Was not understanding this the root of empirial colonialism? The cause of modern colonialism?

Oof, I think I need that rest now!

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