In a conversation with SG last night about religion, Jesus and what SG calls his theory of the Universal Application of Love as Christ's answer to pretty much every problem that exists, I was translating horse and human behavior as I am often wont to do.
Amongst practitioners of Natural Horsemanship techniques you will often hear horses referred to as "push" animals. Because they are at the bottom of the food chain, their response to threat (or pressure) is to run away. This natural tendency can be taken advantage of quite easily to train them. When I apply pressure in this way, you move that way. Because they are so sensitive to pressure, horses will soon learn to read your movements and so once they understand how it feels when you ask them to do a certain thin, they begin to read the smallest movement from you.
Thus, maybe you start off by asking your horse to trot by leaning forward and giving him some leg pressure, or you might even have to spank him with your hand a little or your rein, and if he still is not trotting, you might let him feel the pressure of a spur. In any case, once he has begun trotting, you don't need to continue to ask him to do it. So long as he is doing what you asked him to do, you stop applying the additional pressure. Soon he learns that when you shift your weight slightly and send a little energy down your legs, this means to move into the trot, and so you don't need as big a physical cue to get the same result.
Some people are better at responding quickly when the horse gets it right, and other people need a lot of practice to get any good at all at recognizing when the horse tries and begins to get it right. When the latter happens, you will see a person continuing to put pressure on the horse, the horse has done or is trying to do as the rider requested but there's no reward. He's still getting stabbed in the side with a spur or spanked with the tail end of the reins. If this goes on too long, the horse gets incredibly frustrated and likely scared too, because he doesn't understand what you want from him at all. You forgot to tell him he did it right, and because he is a prey animal and the pressure you put on him makes him scared, he may begin to fight - buck, rear up, kick - to get away from you. Some horses have better minds about this than others and they are easier to work with, but with horses who are poor-minded or fearful to begin with, this kind of treatment will very quickly begin to develop a pathological response in the horse. If he has to buck to get you off and that's what makes the pressure stop, then you've reinforced the pathology and the downward spiral begins. Pretty soon you've got a horse that just hates to be ridden, doesn't trust anyone, and becomes a danger to people.
I believe this is an apt metaphor for what happens when we treat other people badly. I see it in churches and organized religion all the time. Instead of treating others with love, some people prefer to respond to others with judgment, hate and sometimes even violence. The data has been in for a long time now; children raised in violent homes have a predictably much higher likelihood of become violent parents. Children who spend too long in institutionalized environments as infants do not learn to have loving bonds with others, will end up being unable to relate as well or have appropriate trust levels.
As with a horse who has been improperly handled, you can usually improve the situation, but its a lot harder to fix it when it began badly in the first place, in horse OR human. This bears out throughout the path of history, and it continues today becuse abuse begets abuse begets abuse. Bad treatment by other people, whether we are children or adults, invariably results in some level of negative pathology and response within us. If our experience is compounded by past abuse or other triggers, our stress and fear may compel us to either fight back in a way we ordinarily wouldn't dream of, or cause us an inverted response that leads to self harm - drug abuse, acoholism, or even worse, suicidal behavior.
We hurt ourselves or others when we learn that we have no value. At my ten year high school reunion I remember someone reporting that this kid Ned, from a class a few years behind me, had built himself a shelter of some sort out in the woods, a la Ted Kaczynski , booby-trapped the area around it and told everyone that if he caught anyone attempting to come near him they'd get shot.
I dont' know if the story was true or not, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was. Ned was one of those unfortunate kids who got bullied in school. He was picked on constantly, he was small and wore thick black plastic-rimmed glasses, didn't dress like the cool kids, and from what I heard had a rather crappy home life as well. In retrospect, the negative pressure on that poor kid from all sides must have been endless and unbearable.
In mixed company I am sometimes loathe to verbally announce that my beliefs are Christian in nature. I know quite well what many people think of Christians, and its generally not very nice. I tend to be far from the mainstream in my views of Christianity. I think Jesus was a radical promoter of ONE value: Love.
Jesus didn't write anything. He used his words and his actions to preach a gospel that love, applied liberally and without prejudice, was the answer to everything. In the early years after his death, Christianity had a lot of foward momentum. People could understandably be open to the concept that treating one another with love, compassion, mercy and grace was THE way to live.
All it took to effectively shut down this Love Revolution was a little politics. Once the message of Christ was adopted by the government, it took no little effort to turn it back into a religion where reward came only from following hundreds of difficult rules, and "love" became a euphemism for "treating people like shit until they do what you want them to."
We are born with an inherent need to be loved and nurtured. That need for love, unfulfilled, creates problems. Even if you don't buy into my personal belief in Christianity, when it comes to the concept of love, I'm still right. What frustrates and sickens me is when people are drawn to a group or a belief concept because they sense that what they need is that higher order of love, but what they get instead is condemnation. They seek the application of mercy and instead receive a heavy dose of hatred. Oh, the people condemning won't admit that's what they're doing. They try and camoflouge their hateful behavior as "love" but dehumanizing and hating other people resembles love about as much as a fluffy baby bunny resembles a honey badger.
If we really want the world to change, we need to radically change the way we treat others. That doesn't mean becoming enablers or not being able to be honest and truthful when people hurt us or they act like assholes. To me it just means that we remember to apply compassion when it comes to other people and stick to the basics laid out two thousand years ago by a Jewish carpenter. Love others. Easy in theory, often hard in practice, but ultimately the only answer I see that works long term.
More from living