During our first months in Spain it was impossible not to notice the frantically barking dog in the apartment near the stairwell that led to the clothesline on the roof. It seemed like every time I went to hang or retrieve laundry, the dog had a great deal of noise pent up that had to be broadcast. It was one of those little irritations. More remarkable than the sound energy rolling off of the dog and through the closed apartment door was the length of time it took me to consider the larger picture. Just what was going on, and what, if anything, could get it to stop?
Maybe there were lots of things that triggered the din on any given day, but there was one particular cause and effect that I should have noticed sooner. The heavy stairwell door is designed to swing shut on its own. Carrying a bundle of laundry, a set of keys, and a fistful of clothes pins, I would swing the door open and proceed up the stairs. The door banging shut was a trigger that shot sound out of that dog. If s/he managed to calm down by the time I had returned from the roof, the door slamming behind me as I entered the hall was guaranteed to start a fresh sound storm. Once I had seen this sequence in my mind, I could make an effort to slow the closing of the door before proceeding up the stairs or into the hall. The result? The dog could continue to do whatever it is that dogs do when they haven’t been summoned to their barking posts. All was quiet!
Making the connection between the bang and the bark not only contributed to my peace; it invited me to consider what other connections I’ve been missing. What things am I doing that play a part in various tussles with Ninja, for instance? If I could get a handle on that, it would be much more valuable to me than keeping the dog quiet.
Animal behavior researchers are very interested in watching to see what animals do when presented with their own reflection. Can they figure out that they are seeing themselves? Do they have a concept of self to begin with? Do they recognize that lifting a wing or a paw (or a tentacle) will cause the one in the mirror to rise as well?
As a human species, we spend plenty of time in front of the mirror, thinking about ourselves. Though we’re better than most animals at a lot of higher order functions, I don’t know how much of an edge we have when it comes to considering the way that our actions connect with what’s going on around us, provided that those actions are more complex than lifting a paw. While all the barking I hear isn’t necessarily brought on by the bang of a door I’ve let go of, maybe I have more of a role in the messes around me than I realize. It would be mistake to assume that I’m the center of things, and there’s a great deal happening that I can’t influence, but from now on I’m going to try to be a little more reflective, to pay attention to the ways that things I’m doing connect with the things that happen next. Perhaps I’ll find more doors that I can catch before they slam.