|Gus's nature? Take the burger. |
No regrets. No remorse.
These demons come in many different forms. If you have OCD, one of yours may be naturally seeking out reassurance to combat self-doubt. If you have anxiety, you may naturally jump to the worst conclusion in every situation.
Whatever your demons are, building character involves the difficult process of learning to combat these internal signals to craft a better self.
With this in mind, I have realized that my dog, Gus, is honestly one of the most noble creatures I know.
Those who have met Gus or have heard of his antics may be surprised by this. Gus has bitten 3 of the 4 members of my bridal party. Gus snarls, guards his food, and barks at strangers. He has seen a behavioral therapist for his anxiety and paranoia, resulting in a regimen of anti-anxiety medication, and he still gets very ornery.
But Gus is growing. This morning, I went to give him his kiss goodbye and I got snarled at. I knew to back away, and I went to sit on a nearby chair where I knew I would not come across as threatening. Gus followed me, did some light angry nibbles on my hand, and then, still slightly snarling, jumped up on me for a hug.
I was moved.
Some of you may read this and wonder how I could possibly view this as positive. Here's the thing: Gus showed restraint. You could tell that he was really trying to be good... The mismatch of his snarls and his cuddles revealed the internal struggle between his natural inclination to attack vs. his desire to show love and not hurt his loved ones.
Now, you may accuse me of anthropomorphism, but I think this experience really highlights something important about judging human behavior. Certain instincts vary from individual to individual, and how impressive it is for someone to abstain from a behavior really depends on that specific person's natural inclinations toward that behavior.
Anger is a solid example. Most people don't bite, but a lot of them yell. Personally, I rarely have outbursts where I scream at the target of my rage. However, I know that there are people who really struggle not to snap at others whenever they are frustrated. In my opinion, when those people don't yell at someone, it is much more admirable than when I do not yell at someone.
Another way to think about it? Imagine fresh, hot french fries. There may be two people who decline to eat them, but if one of those people hates the taste of french fries, their act of restraint just isn't as commendable or meaningful.
Trying to fight our negative instincts is the only way we can stop them from controlling our lives. Even small steps matter. If you have an OCD fear of germs and manage to ignore your compulsion to wash your hands an extra time? You have fought a harmful instinct. If your depression tells you to stay in bed all day, but you get up anyway? You have fought a harmful instinct. If your eating disorder tells you to binge, but you stop after one plate? You have fought a harmful instinct.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking comparable actions require comparable strengths of character. Context matters. Evolving and becoming stronger means that you have to appreciate these little victories in your unique journey.
Congratulate yourself on the small improvements. The little actions add up.
This is how we grow. This is how we triumph.