If you’re going to focus on love today, why not focus on loving animals? And I mean all animals. Even though we’re called Homo Sapiens, we, too, are animals, as surely as the chinchilla in my backyard and the cat in your lap.
Sometimes the best way to love everyone around you is simply not to judge them, and not to take their actions personally, but also to be purposeful about your own actions–something NY Times columnist Amy Sutherland learned while researching an article on wild animal training (her resulting Times column became the most emailed article of 2006).
Now expanded into book form, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage details how Sutherland applied exotic animal training techniques to her husband, friends, and anyone she came in contact with, and in doing so became happier, more patient, optimistic, and now gets along better with people.
Don’t think it’s possible to train people, even yourself? We try to do it all the time, Sutherland points out:
“All of us, whether consciously or not, spend a good chunk of our day trying to alter each other’s behavior. When you tailgate someone, you hope to make the car ahead of you speed up or get the hell out of the way. When you help someone, say, by explaining the appropriate length for toenails to your spouse or teasing a friend for obsessively tracking the underwear habits of Britney Spears, you are, to some extent, trying to change them. … Along the way we teach plenty of behaviors by accident. … People who respond to lunch and dinner invitations with breathless e-mails listing their busy schedules train their friends not to invite them to anything.”
Rather than just telling us what we can do to approach people differently, Sutherland candidly relates what she learned to her own interactions, revealing how she had unwittingly been trying to train her husband with “nagging, occasional diplomatic overtures, pleading, sarcasm, and a personal favorite, the cold shoulder. … Along the way, I had, by mistake, trained him to take refuge in the bathroom every time I mentioned gardening.”
She also discusses how in addition to training others differently, the first step was really training herself–to have more self control, patience, and to reward what she liked and ignore what she didn’t. That meant calling someone immediately when she got a present in the mail, or thanking her husband for picking up his wet exercise clothes, and ignoring that he’d left other messes around the house.
So when you get that bouquet of flowers today, or other tokens of affection, (assuming its desired) think like an animal–trainer, that is. How might you entice that person to do it again?