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Think Again: Want to be as good as your dog thinks you are?

Melanie Sturm
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Because the Jewish High Holidays remind us of mortality, I’ve been thinking about our 14 ½ year old puppy, Leo. Yes, he’s at the end of his life expectancy, but his ever-wagging tail is evidence that he’s still loving life.

Leo’s occasional caretaker thinks he has acute FOMO — fear of missing out — which she insists is the secret to his longevity because he loves me more than he loves himself. With a teenager in the family, it’s nice to know that at least someone is always happy to see me. For example, imagine if I locked my son and Leo in a trunk. Upon opening it, which would be most happy to see me?

I hate to over-glorify dogs, but there’s something God-like about their capacity to love and forgive — virtues that this season of reflection and renewal is designed to inspire. As Hunter Thompson put it: “Everyone has two lives. The second one begins when you realize you only have one.” That’s why mortality is life’s greatest gift, for facing death reawakens the vitality and aspiration that slumber under blankets of complacency.



Since we all have chances to think again, how then can we become as good as our dogs think we are, inspiring metaphorical tail-wagging in others while helping improve the world?

I offer three thoughts, inspired by dogs and some Jewish sages.



First is the underrated art of listening. In truth, dogs do speak but only to those who know how to listen and hear the love expressed by a dog, which is infinite.

To prove listening’s power, consider this story about Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” among the 20th century’s most important books.

A patient of Frankl’s phoned him at midnight to tell him that she was about to take her life. Frankl talked her through her depression, offering countless reasons to carry on, which she promised to do.

Later, Frankl asked which reasons she’d found convincing. No reason she replied, only that a world in which someone was prepared to listen to another’s distress seemed to her like one in which it was worthwhile to live. It’s an important lesson — people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

So, if you want to be as good as your dog thinks you are, listen. It can make all the difference.

Second is the power of hope, which springs eternal for dogs who live each day joyously, loving and protecting their families unconditionally. Dogs are testimony to Friedrich Nietzsche’s insight that “he who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear with almost any how.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks believed that unlike optimism, hope is an active belief that collectively we can make things better. Hope requires courage and faith, while optimism doesn’t.

Consider the story of Todd Beamer on 9/11, exemplifying hope’s power. In his 14-minute call with an Airfone operator, Beamer coolly shared what was happening, including the plan to overtake the hijackers. Before hanging up, he asked the operator to recite with him the Lord’s Prayer, and she could hear passengers joining in. Then reciting Psalm 23, he concluded, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for though art with me.”

In his TedTalk, Rabbi Sacks explained why he considers that last sentence of Psalm 23 to be the most moving in religious literature, because it means “we can face any future without fear so long as we know we will not face it alone.”

It was hope for a better future for humanity that prompted Beamer’s last words — “Ready? OK, let’s roll.” – saving the U.S. Capitol and countless lives.

Hope is also what moved righteous gentiles to hide Jews during the Holocaust. It’s what prompts firefighters to rush burning buildings and brave souls to enlist in the military. It’s what compels a class to shave their heads on graduation day in solidarity with a classmate with cancer. It’s what inspired Mr. Rogers to break the color barrier on national TV by inviting Police Officer Clemmons, an African American, to cool their feet together in a kiddie pool. And it’s hope that stirred Anja Ringgren Loven, the Danish charity worker who adopted an abandoned and dying 2-year-old child in Nigeria, nursing him to health.

She named him Hope.

So, if you want to be as good as your dog thinks you are, have a strong why and the hope to achieve it.

Finally, there’s gratitude, which is not only a character marker; it’s necessary for happiness. Consider our dogs whose tails wag in appreciation for the smallest deeds. If we were half as grateful as they are, wouldn’t we be twice the humans we are and happier to boot?

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin observed that when someone feels gratitude, they’re cultivating a feeling of being loved. Conversely, “an ungrateful person reveals not only an emotionally stingy disposition but how profoundly unloved they feel. … There are people who are masters at remembering every not-nice thing someone did to them. You know how much happier you’ll be (and more loved you’ll feel) when you go around remembering the nice things people did?”

Like gratitude, forgiveness makes our lives easier because we don’t expend energy to feel anger. Not forgiving someone is like swallowing poison while expecting the other person to die. They’re untouched, while we’re less happy.

So, if you want to be as good as your dog thinks you are, listen, let go of resentments, forgive and seek forgiveness, practice active hope and be grateful for blessings. Doing so will make us more like our dogs and God, which is why dogs are so divine.

As our moment of reinvention debuts, remember you cannot waste time in advance. What you do with your tomorrows is your choice. So how will you choose?

Many believe that resurrecting the dead is the greatest miracle imaginable. But the Kotzker rabbi believed that the real miracle is to resurrect the living, moving us toward the life we should be leading.

Think again — If we live that life, and God grants us as many years as Leo, we, too, may experience FOMO because the world is better because we’ve been in it.

Melanie Sturm, founder of Engage to Win, aims to change communication for good through her training and writing. Encouraging readers to “Think Again, you might change your mind.” She welcomes comments at melanie@engage2win.org.


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