I wrote earlier today about Gus’s rough morning, and what I took to be a cruel message from a woman in Texas suggesting I was putting my own ego above Gus’s recovery, and the message hurt me and made me angry. The new ways we communicate with one another promote discord and misunderstanding, and I have learned that if I try and make a human connection, communication and understanding becomes possible.
It is so easy to send one another messages without thinking, we communicate easily, but often at the price of empathy and sympathy. Look at the hideous world of tweets.
In our world, where people are rapidly disconnecting from one another, it is easy to lose sight of the person at the other end of the message, to forget that we are all human we all feel many of the same things. I have faith in the people on the other side of the message, and I work to find them.
Sometimes, I do. I did today.
I was shocked and hurt by a message suggesting I was indifferent to Gus and his awful illness.
I wrote back to this woman explaining that her comment was hateful and hurtful, that Maria and I loved Gus as much or more as she did, and that I believed the love of animals should never be used as a screen to hurt or hate people.
We are feeling quite vulnerable with Gus these days, it is not clear that we can save him or help him, we both sat crying this morning as we tried to comfort him after a hard morning. It was a bad time to get a message suggesting we were killing him because we wouldn’t buy a Bailey Chair.
She responded angrily, and said she was just arguing for animals, that she was a good person, and that I just wasn’t willing to listen to her, she had saved a lot of ME dogs.
I wrote back urging her to not be a hypocrite, to bear false witness against herself, to be cruel rather than empathetic. Hateful messages are never about love, not of animals, not of people. Our messages softened with one another, she said she wasn’t trying to be cruel.
I told her Gus’s treatment would be determined by our vet and medical specialists in ME, and not by her telling us what to do.
We went back and forth for awhile, but there were germs and shreds of connection. She had lost two dogs to ME and also had been diagnosed with autism and Asberger’s. I sensed she had a big heart, she just didn’t really know how to communicate, and the loss of her two dogs filled her with a sense of urgency about saving others. Like so many people on social media, she didn’t see me as a person with feelings, but as another clueless man too arrogant to listen.
It was interesting, because we didn’t quit on one another. I respected her willingness to talk to me.
This was important to me, I sensed the person behind the message, a sensitive young woman, she had lost trust and faith in veterinarians and perhaps in other people along her way.
This morning, we broke through. I told her my wish for her was to learn to express her love of animals in positive ways, not by inadvertently harming vulnerable people. This afternoon, a breakthrough, a message that said “I am sorry if the way I expressed my real fear of a less than great outcome came across that way. My Asbergers makes things like that more difficult. Please accept my sincere apology and I do hope for the best for the little guy and for you.”
I got it, she was traumatized by the loss of two dogs to ME an she feared the same outcome I feared. She just didn’t realize we were the same, not enemies or aliens.
The true soul of a good person had emerged, not because she was agreeing with me or apologizing to me, but because we found the human, the person behind the message, in each other, and when all was said and done, we were very much the same, not all that different.
We didn’t give up on humanity, we sought it out.
I have been diagnosed at having what is called benign autism, and I am often more direct and insistent with people than I realize. I sometimes hurt people without having a clue.
Her message was sincere, and of course I accepted her apology, and explained that our kind of communications make it easy to misunderstand and harm one another. It happens to me every day, and I’m sure I’ve done it many times myself.
I told her I would welcome any help she could offer, and I felt we had made a connection, and I hoped she would stay in touch with me. And I hope she does. This is a big deal, I think, in our world where we increasingly learn to hide behind digital messages to learn to hate and harm one another. Face to face, I know I would like this woman, and having broken through the digital screen, we already do.
I learn much from these encounters, they help me learn and grow and change. Oddly enough, I think I’ve made a new friend, the payoff for not giving up on people.
We are all human beings, we all know fear and anger and hurt. We can break through this screens and walls if we treat one another with dignity and respect. That’s my faith, and I’m sticking with it.