Fearless to Shameless
“Leash your dog!” The command bellowed across the golf course where a willowy man in a puff jacket brought a giant black beast of a dog to heel. Disoriented, my head snapped up as our two little dogs ran excitedly forward. The man struck a baronial pose in the distance. His canine’s head was almost chest level.
“Do you hear me?” The frigid January wind off the Long Island sound distorted his words, but the angry, impatient tone was unmistakable.
My friend and I had been deep in conversation. This routine golf course walk was a chance to let our small dogs run free while getting some exercise. She’d just returned from her three-hour weekly round trip to visit her 92 year-old mother in the hospital. The caregiver had called an hour before. Her Mom seemed weaker. Could she come back down? I was bucking her up as she prepared to get back in the car for the return trip.
“I said, leash your damned dog! What’s wrong with you?” Fierce now. My friend is losing her hearing and she struggled to understand what was unfolding, even with my prompting. Her Shitzu bounded innocently toward the bear-dog for a sniff as he rose to all fours in a guarding-the-gates-of-hell stance. Clearly we weren’t responding fast enough. The man shifted position, his body language belligerent.
“Call the dog,” I urged her quickly. “Start running. The guy wants you to leash him.” She hesitated, still struggling to process the situation. I’d like to mention that we live in a small suburb of New York, where people are mostly collegial. We townsfolk try to follow the basic rules of civility, mostly offer neighbors the benefit of the doubt. His cruel tone felt like calculated sport.
“What don’t you f—ing understand about the words leash… your… dog?” His voice dripped with fury. Indignant. How had things gone so quickly from a friendly golf course stroll to verbal grenades on enemy territory? And if this dude’s beast was such a menace, why wasn’t he removing himself from the equation? He was already at the edge of the course, clearly headed toward the road.
I’m not going to do myself any favors if I continue relaying the dialogue. Suffice it to say I got my Irish up, met fire with fire, and when he finally tugged his dog off the course, still hurling swear words, my friend and I looked at one another incredulously, veins coursing with gladiator-level adrenaline. The feeling was less than victorious. I wondered if he felt any better. How could he?
We’re living in a pivotal moment. And no, I’m not talking politics here, although I’m sure it will be interpreted as such. Certainly, the past political season has added lighter fluid to an already burning fire. In what feels like a short span of time, we’ve moved from promoting fearlessness to accepting shamelessness. We’re fully embracing a no-apology, take no prisoners, winner take all era. It’s totally cool to be shameless.
Fearlessness has a place in our lives; in the pursuit of dreams and goals. It’s more personal. Learning to be fearless is to confront what scares you or holds you back from reaching your potential. Teaching our children to overcome their fears gives them the tools to grow and improve, to question things, to not just accept the status quo. Shameless is an altogether different thing, a more corrosive, destructive force when unchecked. Shamelessness is a giant middle finger in the sky, without the consequences; a flagrant disregard for others and for the rules society constructs to co-exist and thrive.
There are plenty of examples of rewarding shameless behavior, from Kim Kardashian’s first sex tape to doping/lying sports figures and their unapologetic comebacks. The current low bar has been linked to everything from reality TV, evaporation of organized religion, dissolution of journalistic standards and the creation of the social media temple of self-worship. Forgive me, you’re already glazing over.
What matters is how we move forward. How do we use the moments in our every day lives to put a stake in the ground? How do we sprinkle in more civility, remind ourselves that sometimes we need to consider the other fellow first?
That pompous ass on the golf course who started at decibel ten? I let him wind me up. I fought outrage with outrage. But what if I had gone all Ghandi on him, led with a little kindness, instead of responding with my own entitlement? I’m just as guilty as the rest of the shameless, nattering crowd. I’m one more middle-aged, angry white woman joining the firefight, starting with the assumption that I’m right.
The fearless me needed to put the shameless me in check. What if we’d gotten closer to that man, instead of bitch slapping back into the wind? What if we’d met his crazy with some calm wisdom, and maybe even an apology. It was our dogs who were off leash, running toward his beast like beef jerky treats. Maybe he was truly frightened about some sort of attack. We didn’t know his story.
I’m ready to start somewhere, determined to build in a little more benefit of the doubt, to lead with kindness in hopes that it rebounds and reverberates a little. It’s certainly harder to be a pompous ass when someone defaults to concern. Well, let’s just say it’s a little harder to justify your position of pompous ass-iness.
In a world where everyone seems to be yelling at one another, I’m going to whisper more. I’ll take a few breaths before making an assumption, before getting right up in someone’s grill. I won’t be 100% successful. We all have our moments. But I’m willing to give it a shot.