"You can’t handle the truth!"

Back in the less politically correct turn-of-the-20th Century, there was a cartoon with the following caption: “Leading cause of adult illiteracy: CATS.” In our household, Zanzibar (pictured here “censoring” the New York Times) often makes it difficult to read All the News That’s Fit to Print. It’s fun to attribute to him the Jack Nicholson motive of shielding his lily-livered owners from the Inconvenient Truth.

Alas, as libel lawyers grow rich demonstrating every day, just cuz it’s printed don’t make it the truth, innit? [See all my previous posts under Murky Research, to bang home this observation.] Every morning I do a side-by-side comparison of articles in the NYTimes & Washington Post, which 2 “reliable sources” often use the same photo for a given story, yet recount Rashoman-like variations of the “facts.” Then I go online and use the Manchester Guardian as the tie-breaker, especially for reportage on American politics. As the not-untainted-erstwhile-NoW-editor, Piers Morgan, put it on Chelsea Lately the other night, the Brits don’t have “a dog in the race.” [A slightly more humane metaphor than the American “dog in the fight.”]

Yet, even if we are in a newspaper-free zone [like a hotel, where all they offer is The USA Today], our dear little heads do Zanzibar’s job for us. We edit incoming data heavily. We say to ourselves, “I don’t wish to know that!” and either block it, forget it, or distort it. The clinical terms for the first 2 defense mechanisms are denial & repression. The 3rd is called PR.

This morning Lili & I got to the sports park early enough that we had the place to ourselves. “Good-o!” thought I. “No worries about fraught encounters with other dogs. We’ll just enjoy the gorgeous morning.” We had completed half the circuit when we met a leashed terrier mix & his owner, so I put Lili in a down-stay to let them pass by. I was succeeding in being Lili’s Pack Leader, until the man asked, “How are you today?” When I replied, “Fine,” Lili sprang into action, dragging me across the path, so she could bark & lunge at the now-also-barking & lunging terrier, as I profusely apologized. Oy! Such humiliation I suffered! More than 7 years of daily training exercises, and I still can’t reliably control my dog. So, as we pounded the pavement even faster, to “burn off” my anger (and, possibly, Lili’s), I formulated a face-saving, fact-bending “press release,” for the next time Lili shows me up in public: “Sorry. She’s a rescue.”

Then I could imagine Jack Nicholson sneering & Zanzibar sprawling, and I pulled myself together. Amended press release: “Sorry. She’s a work-in-progress.” [And so is her owner.] I had just loaded Lili back up into the Jeep, when the terrier & owner reached their nearby car. He gave me a not-at-all-condescending wave [completely neutralizing any residual humiliation] and his terrier (perhaps noting that the fearsome wolf-like beast was safely locked up behind metal & glass) gave a farewell bark & lunge display.

The truth is, every dog & owner partnership is a work in progress. I think I can handle that.

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Filed under aggression happens, attribution theory, lesser of two evils

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