Backfire Effect – a brilliant cartoon that provides a great visualisation to its meaning!
Last Sunday, Cat, her mom and the kids went for a walk on the park next door. The neighbours’ pup came after and did what puppies are bound to do – it wanted to play so it kept jumping at the girls to get their attention. Well, it happens that my girls are very wary of most animals and especially scared of dogs.
They cried and screamed in a panic and the owner belatedly came around to pick up his pet with no other word other than: “She’s only playing. She’s only a puppy. Why are you afraid of her? You shouldn’t be afraid of her!” He then turned his back and left.
We have previously had some neighbourly interactions with them and must say that the feeling we got was the best – a relaxed, friendly couple, around their sixties that seem to be in very good terms with life. They actually came over to introduce the new pet a couple of months ago and invited the girls to come around and have a play.
When they got home, I was presented with a recount of this stressful situation and based on the respect we felt for them, I urged Cat to knock on his door and tell him how the situation had made her feel.
No point in getting to the specific arguments thrown back and forth. What I did realise there and then is that the primal instinct of fight or flight is deeply embedded in us humans. When Cat expressed that she was upset with the manner he had handled the situation, he became harshly defensive, using accusatory and judgemental arguments, and more than once, his body language betrayed his words by showing a willingness to get away from that confrontation.
What I came once again to note, is that most people are unwilling to make the effort to understand the motivations of others. Our own beliefs are so deeply entrenched that if challenged we tend to hold on even tighter to them.
When engaged in a discussion relating to a shared experience that produces contrary feelings, the main objective is that the other sees our position as the one that demands sympathy. Each party easily takes offence and feels a deep sense of injustice when the other fails to experience reality the same way we do.
When I got home from this interaction, my mind was restlessly musing on the things said and left unsaid. I locked the door to the bedroom, opened the Calm app and did the 10 minute ‘Forgiveness’ guided meditation. I really put my mind into it and engaged in and with the feeling as directed. I came out of the room a lot calmer and – after making the decision to put down in writing my intentions and motivations – no longer stressed.
By writing, nothing is left unsaid and all that needs saying is said. And if on the other end, there is the slightest curiosity and compassion, the message will get across unblemished and paving the way to something possibly more meaningful.
“Sunrise Beach, 6 May 2017
The reason behind writing these words is mainly to try to explain my point of view without the anxieties that are inherent to a face to face discussion of this nature. I am not looking for an apology, I would rather ask that you take a step in my shoes.
I understand you are a father too. I have no doubt that there isn’t anything in your power that you wouldn’t do to protect your children. I’m no different and when my 2 girls got home in fear from a walk in the park, my heart went out to them.
Even though I do not agree with your claim that they are unusual children when it comes to their interaction with dogs, they sure are in many other ways and that is what makes them special. As all human beings they have their fears and we as parents would prefer they didn’t, but we respect them nevertheless. Having said that, my children shouldn’t be afraid to walk outside their house.
I understand that Molly is only a puppy; she likes to play above all and does this mainly by jumping. I had puppies, I played and play with puppies, and I know how they behave. My daughters, aged 2 and 4, don’t. No matter how hard we try to explain, they see the jumping as a threat. You can probably still recall how hard it is to reason with children at this age, especially when it comes to irrational fears.
Again, I am not looking to prove that I am right and you’re wrong. I only wish to put an end to this ruminating feeling of aggravation that I suppose you’re sharing as well. From the brief interactions my partner and I have had with you and your wife, we have nothing but praise and respect, and I wouldn’t like this situation to create a bad neighbouring aura.
Our sincerest and kindest regards,
Catarina and Diogo”