Last Friday was one of those perfect, warm, Yanchep evenings and I was strolling past our new surf club with Lucy in tow. As I walked up the hill towards the beach I saw an older couple with two dogs and what I am guessing was a granddaughter. They had stopped to do a poo pick up when one of their dogs managed to get free and bolted towards Lucy, jumping on her, snarling and appearing to attack her.
In the heat of the moment I instinctually responded by kicking the dog and breaking them apart. The dog returned to the owner and he apologised for the incident, but then added quite strongly, ‘but you don’t need to kick my dog mate!’
It was only a couple of months previously that a large aggressive dog had got off the lead and attacked Lucy so I had responded similarly then. The dog got the message and backed off so my response was somewhat reflexive – I’m not a random dog kicker…
Hearing the reprimand in his tone, I responded with ‘If you kept control of your dog it would never have happened!’
‘She’s a pup – she just got away!’ he responded loudly.
I started to explain how Lucy had been attacked before, how his dog was a big ‘pup’, but the words came out like bullets and they were received as such. ‘She jumped on my dog and was being aggressive!’ I said, but the tone had begun to escalate and voices had been raised.
Suddenly both of us were ‘right’, both of us were ‘wronged’ and my neighbour had become my enemy…
A short argument ensued and finished with me telling him that if his dog ever came near mine again in that way I’d ‘kick the shit out of it’ (yeah – proud moment) before we went our separate ways. I wandered up to the old surf club to sit and chill for a moment like I usually do and they went the other way.
What was normally a place where I enjoy some quiet reflection became a place where I found myself asking what just happened there?!’ ‘Where did that come from?!’
I’m not ‘that‘ bloke…… I thought, and they probably aren’t ‘those‘ people…
But both of us were ‘that bloke and those people’ at least for a short time. Both of us had something primal and dark inside that rose to the surface when threatened. I began to walk back feeling a bit rueful at my fairly poor showing in that moment. I can’t remember the last time I have flared up aggressively like that at a random stranger.
As I walked towards the food vans that were doing their thing, I saw the other people and their dogs a hundred metres or so in front of me. As I got near they crossed the road to get some food and suddenly there was a choice – to follow and apologise for being a dick – or to walk on and let the ugliness remain.
The problem with doing nothing is that the ugliness never goes away. Its like a stain that never gets washed out and every unresolved neighbourhood conflict becomes another dark mark on the community. When you get enough unresolved stuff the place can feel nasty and dark.
I hope to live in a community where people rise above pettiness and stupidity (including my own) so I ended up walking across the road and catching up with them, apologising for the harsh words and discovering that they weren’t ‘those people’ either. They were as embarrassed by their own response and the conversation that followed was one of healing and reconciliation – one that meant that next time we see one another on the street we can say ‘hi’ rather than avoiding or seeing one another as the enemy.
Let’s be honest… the truth is we are all ‘that bloke’ and ‘those people’, because there is a darkness that lurks in all of us, but we also have the ability to be more.
Its just down to the choices we make.