Do You Kick The Dog?

                                                                                                                        Do You Ever Kick The Dog?

I have sat through a multitude of Job Interviews in my life, from both sides of the table, as an interviewer and as a prospective employee. To be honest, I have enjoyed the former more than the latter. And I probably am quite experienced at understanding the culture of both sides of the table. For example, there are questions you can and should not ask as you sit in either chair. On one interview I had applied for, I was faced with an interesting query at the end of the Interview. “Do you ever kick the dog,” I was asked. It has not been until very recently that I understood that question from 27 years ago. I don’t know my answer, but I got the position. I was in affect being asked “do you ever get angry?”

When I think about it now I am offended about the metaphor used in the question. To be truthful, I love dogs, and especially my dog. I would no more kick a dog than allow a person to be kicked, and I cannot think of something that might make me more angry than someone kicking my puppy. It would create within me anger!

Anger! It would surprise some to know that Anger is a neutral emotion. It is neutral in that it is either expressed constructively, with a benefit attached, or destructively, with great harm being attached. The response can be beneficial to many, or the reaction can be harmful to the same. Winston Mandella expressed something deeply years after he was let out of prison.  The context for the powerful comment, comes from a decision he made upon leaving Robins Island Prison in South African after nearly thirty years as a captive. Said Mandela;  “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Mandela’s quote has inspired many people to follow in his footsteps.This was not just a comment about forgiveness, the end to bitterness, but about how he would respond to anger and injustice going forward. He made a conscious cognitive decision and promise to himself, to be constructive in life, instead of reactive to destructive behaviour. And he fulfilled it. It would however take creating a new belief system, and developing it into a habit that would in time come about automatically. Some other examples of this way of responding to anger have been Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi.

So on any given day when I am bumped, what comes out of that emotional vase I carry internally. And is it constructive or destructive?

Here are some helpful tips to a response to anger. And these are cognitive choices.

1 Count to three, by thousands. One thousand, two thousand, three thousand. Then breathe deeply for a few seconds. In that instant you have given yourself the opportunity to respond positively instead of reacting negatively and destructively. This is called “stimulus response.”  As a result you have begun a habit of self calming, that will work to produce a careful, constructive and positive response. Something beneficial has been unearthed. It takes time for this to be habitual but it can happen.

2 Or when anger is consuming you over a particular issue; construct, by working in the garden, tiding up the house, ironing some clothes, walking the dog, going to the gym, painting a picture, building a boat in your basement (like Gibbs😊) journal, work on a puzzle, reconcile with who ever hurt or upset you, pray, forgive, meditate.

3 If your emotions are escalating beyond normal control, walk away, and come back later to calmly resolve an issue. But, come back!

Imagine a beautiful work of art that has been created as a response to anger, a song or poem, a piece of hand-built furniture. The responses that come from anger can be wonderfully constructive. Martin Luther King led hundreds of peaceful marches throughout the south. And as the marchers moved through a city their mantra was “I am somebody.” King’s ideas about peaceful change had been inspired by Gandhi who mobilized a nation towards independence. 

The eye for eye tooth for tooth reactions can leave people more angry than ever, and some blind.

Paul said, “In your anger do not sin”[a]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Ephesians 4:26.

So NO!, don’t kick the dog. Walk the dog. Kiss the dog. Brush, or bathe the dog. Be constructive in your response with what ever your dog might be. Be patient as you learn this new response. 

Dr Bryan Hagerman

St Paul’s Outreach Counsellor

Halifax.