Remember those “WWJD” (What would Jesus do?) bracelets that were big 10-15 years ago or so? I never had one. I didn’t like them so much. No huge reason why I guess. I simply felt that wearing a bracelet wasn’t going to be what made me behave in a given fashion. Well.. maybe any bracelet other than a “WARNING, DIABETIC, IF FOUND IN A STATE OF MENTAL IMPAIR, PLEASE FEED DOUGHNUT ASAP”… that bracelet is going to get you somewhere…. maybe the ER, but you will be going somewhere!
I also don’t have a little greek fish symbol on my car. I am a fairly … confident … driver. I like to drive fast. I’m a good driver, one of the few things at which I have confidence. Neither reason is a defensible position to law enforcement and I get that. I also realize that while I am driving, people will see any bumper stickers, little fish emblems etc., and they will make parallels or judgements based on that. I do not like for others to take a hit because of their association with me. The very reason that from the beginning, I wanted to make it clear that Mark and Miranda should not be judged or criticized for any tom-foolery or slips or lapses in judgement within this blog.
I have not written in a while. The reasons are no good excuse, but a few things in the last couple weeks have driven home a couple important points to me. Just a couple of weeks ago because of a few different circumstances in my life, I called both Mark and Miranda in frustration, on separate occasions. Encouragement is powerful and without sounding like a guru or mystical swami, which I am not, encouragement is a healing art. Both encouraged me and listened to me. It occurred to me that we all need the encouragement of someone who has earned our trust through repeated faithfulness. Both of those qualities is vitally important. They follow closely on the heels of one another.
I hope that it can be said of me that I was giving and encouraging. But I have not always been so…. not proud, and this little story will show you why.
There may have possibly been a man named Brian (I have NOT changed the names because he is not innocent… nor am I) who was a prominent dog trainer in the area where I also trained. We did not know one another personally and I’m sure we were both mutually fine with that. We diverged on more than a few things. He did have amazing skill and talent for marketing himself well which is not the same thing as possessing ability in the area of training. What irked me to no end was his opinion of others and more importantly himself. Those opinions were at constant and polar opposites, his opinion of others abilities and worth being somewhere between dust and roaches. I’ll let you figure out the polar opinion in which he held himself.
Attending a large conference on dog training one summer, there were over 900 trainers and attendees staying at an upscale classy hotel. Brian was vocal about his lifestyle, which was pure and pristine and put the saints to shame. He didn’t wear t-shirts, strike one. He didn’t like to get his hands dirty, strike two. He had no patience for “underlings” … he actually used the term underlings! I’m not sure he actually stooped to drive himself anywhere, cook his own meals, pour his own coffee or use the bathroom for that matter. Well, that was pretty much it for me. It was difficult for me to look past any skill he might have with dogs when his abhorrent lack of skills with people was smacking me in the face. He was picky about everything. He was … dainty…. I don’t like dainty in female friends, and I SURE don’t like it in a man! During a meet and greet the first evening in the hotel lobby while smartly attired waiters served champagne and hors d’oeuvre, a young woman approached Brian with a question. She had little experience but her sincerity and interest were obvious. He laughed loudly and proclaimed that perhaps if she abstained from drinking as he always did, she would be able to learn more and ask less simplistic questions. I was shocked and it appeared that I wasn’t alone. There were quite a few lifted eyebrows and lowered jaws.
I am an underdog. Always been one. I am unremarkable, unmemorable, of moderate talent in everything I do. So I am for underdogs. I expect underdogs to step up to the plate and stand up for themselves, but if they can muster that courage, they will almost always have me in their corner. She stood firm and responded with class and withdrew quietly to talk to other more receptive and helpful people. Which was pretty much any and everyone. She was gracious, and probably of far better character than the author of this blog post.
After a few more proud boasts about his clean living and upstanding moral standing, and more than one reminder to the rest of us dullards, that the hosts of the training seminar had put him in the Presidential suite on the 7th floor, I had about had enough and retired to my lowly room on the 3rd floor. As I went, I thought… which those of you who know me will realize is probably not an entirely good thing. Pondering has gotten me into more than a little trouble on more than a few occasions and I was now pondering the information that I now I had in my possession.
The next morning Brian was in his element. He really could have benefitted from a black cape. It would have suited him. He swept into the room to less oooh’s and aaahhh’s than he probably felt were his due, but nevertheless, his bright and shining (plastic and fake) smile radiated confidence in his subject matter. He expected adoration from his audience, what he got was attention, but I’m not sure he truly would have understood the difference and he launched into his speech with gusto. He was speaking about a program called Vest-a-dog, which is a not for profit organization that provides body armor Kevlar vests for police dogs as well as other protective gear for working canines. It is a great organization. During the course of his talk, he mentioned the concern of dogs overheating. A new product was being tested and soon to be on the market and he, Brian, claimed that he, Brian, was “tantamount to the success of the program.” I leaned over to the person next to me and said, “tantamount? I think maybe he meant paramount.” To which the stranger whispered that he had attended this seminar in 3 other states because he was a vendor and Brian was the pimple on everyone’s forehead. You couldn’t hide him, and you couldn’t pop him! I thought it was gracious of him, and probably only because we were strangers, that “forehead” was the anatomical location he chose…. I became disinterested and began to leaf through a pamphlet until I heard the words, “laws of thermodynamics.” I was intrigued when Brian claimed that these new Kevlar vests, made of the strongest and lightest pure titanium alloy, were designed utilizing higher science formulations that we (stupid people) would not ever understand. He therefore would graciously spare us the unnecessary information on the science that went into the making of the vest suffice it to say that “This vest before you, was designed utilizing the knowledge we have gained directly from the second law of thermodynamics.” I can hear his nasally voice. I sat up a little straighter and leaned in to listen. I might have been holding my breath… I might have been smiling…. It is also quite possible that I could have benefitted from a cape as well. I was now completely immersed in the topic and wanted to hear more, so much more. I was desperate for the Q & A session when he might ask if there were any questions from the audience, because they were stacking up in my brain.
I was 22 which meant that I was stupid but thought I wasn’t. At dinner one evening my roommate began to discuss something she had heard in her physics class and the only thing that I recognized was her definition of “vacuum” because it was a good explanation for my complete lack of knowledge in the subject. I hated not knowing stuff. Random stuff. Trivia and useless stuff. I didn’t care, I wanted to know it. I spent the next month reading textbook upon textbook on applied and theoretical physics. It just so happens that the laws of thermodynamics featured prominently in both branches. My roommate failed her Physics class. That was a word that haunted my life and it caused a bit of conflict in our apartment for the next few weeks as I followed her around like a lost puppy explaining Bernoulli’s law, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion and Transverse waves. She didn’t appreciate it. Probably one of the myriad reasons we were roommates for only a short time. I didn’t blame her.
Seminar over, and question time began. I choked. I disliked Brian’s grandstanding. I disliked his condescending and pretentious treatment of the woman at the meet and greet the night before. I disliked misinformation, no matter how inane and unrelated to the subject matter. But I also disliked people who publicly humiliate others. The technicalities between the difference of what he had done to that woman in the lobby and what I was considering doing at the moment began to needle me. Semantics. I was currently heavily vested in a degree path that dealt with formal, lexical, and conceptual semantics. How we choose our words. Why we choose the words we choose and to what desired end. My desired end was not to better Brian. My desired end was little different than his had been in dealing with that young woman in the lobby. Scorn and disdain are the dirty twins of excessive hubris and my conscience was pricking me that mine was no less than his. The only difference perhaps being that his condescension and superiority had become so deeply ingrained that he now subconsciously denigrated people on a regular basis, quite possibly unbeknownst to him. But I knew, and that made me responsible. I am not a quick thinker. And while I mulled this over in my mind, the moment of Q & A ended and attendees were gathering their things and leaving the conference room.
I stood in the middle of the room absent mindedly watching as people filed past me while two or three people stood looking at the samples of vests and equipment set out at the front of the room. Brian was packing his briefcase to leave and as he walked past me he smiled and said, “It’s a lot to take in isn’t it? I’m sure you have questions.” It was clearly rhetorical. I felt the full weight of the intended and well rehearsed condescension. The tone he likely used with everyone. I stuck my hand out and introduced myself. I was confident that he would never remember either my name or face and I felt a twinge of relief. I was no longer in a Q & A session. The time for questions was over. I leaned in and quietly said, “Kevlar is synthetic plastic, not titanium. It is made stronger by the polymerization of long chain molecules. It’s relationship to thermodynamics is only in the fact that it is indeed matter. The first law of thermodynamics states that matter can be changed, rearranged or manipulated, but not destroyed. The second law of thermodynamics, the one you connected to this Kevlar vest, follows where the first leaves off. It states that the continual changing of matter, through its dispersal and manipulation, creates a state of entropy which then continues in an ever-increasing state of decay. So… to equate this Kevlar vest with the second law of thermodynamics, was to say in essence that it will simply get weaker and weaker over time. You might want to rethink that logic on your next sales pitch.” I smiled my best smile, which isn’t very impressive and has never gotten me much, and turned and walked away.
On the third day of the convention, in the morning as people gathered, there appeared before Brian’s wonderful Presidential suite on the 7th floor, a veritable buffet of empty wine bottles, beer bottles, and possibly a pair of ladies silky undergarments. It appeared that someone had written, “Thanks Brian, you were great. Thanks for explaining some of those canine things so well.” in bright sin-red lipstick on his hotel room door. I have no idea who might have done it, but I applaud that champion of underdogs.
I do not know if that woman from the first night at the conference ever got her question answered. I don’t know how Brian’s attitude affected her. I do know how it affected me. My response to Brian was my own, and for my part, I do not think that it was the best response I could have offered. Words like: inspire, encourage, and motivate; are verbs. By definition, they describe an action and most often their purpose is to evince change in the status quo. Most often we use these verbs in a positive sense, though not always. Did my words to Brian produce a change in him or his lecture? I don’t know, but I can take a guess. Change and investment in people’s lives rarely comes through a few snide sentences, no matter how technically “right” they might be. Change is born in the heart and mind. It is best and most often the offspring of sincerity partnered with truth. Sincerity itself is not a moral endeavor. The world is filled with examples of sincerity to inaccuracy. We must learn from those who have held the standard. Not in sincerity alone, but in correct thinking, right acting and sound motivation.
So who and why and what do we look to, as our guides and teachers? It is an important question, because if we have teachers who are sincere, but sincerely wrong, we learn deeply held beliefs but wrong skills or behaviors. If we have teachers who teach from a place of correct thinking and sound motivation, but lack the sincerity to invest in or encourage their students; we learn correct actions, but slowly and inefficiently, lacking passion or commitment. We feel disconnected and lost in the process and are often incapable of expanding on that knowledge in any different situation.
This last year I had some difficult decisions to make. Made more difficult by not completely understanding how to look at the problem from any remotely objective point of view. Sometimes we need someone who can maintain a little objectivity and still provide us with clarity. That is also NOT saying that objectivity is the same thing as a laissez-faire attitude. I called both Mark and Miranda, at different times, frustrated and unsure of what to think or which direction to go. I am pretty good at reading maps. I don’t know why. I would much prefer that someone give me directions in terms of North, South, East, and West, rather than left and right. It is more direct, it removes inexact options. I don’t enjoy wandering, though I admit that sometimes wandering is what we need to do to get us to realize that we just might be lost and need help!
When I called Mark and Miranda, I learned (only later, because I’m kinda slow) that I didn’t really need an answer, I needed the support and encouragement to find my own answer. They told me that whatever I chose, they would support. Support is a funny thing. Support does not always require 100% agreement, it requires the continued caring and communication of the supporter. In that, both Mark and Miranda have been there for me. Entirely and completely.
Their responses were each unique. Miranda was almost immediately upbeat and progressive about what I considered to be a huge decision in my life. She was excited. Her excitement colored my view and changed my perception of both her and me, and the situation. I needed that, though I was initially taken aback by her forthright attitude, mostly because I did not perceive the “problem” as she did. Where I saw a roadblock, she saw possibility. … I needed that. Which is not the same as saying that at the time I was particularly happy about it.
Mark’s response was very different. Mark would make a good litigator. He listened a lot but when I started sinking into my ruts (and there are many) he systematically countered. I like debate. I happen to be fairly adept at verbal repartee. This was not one of those times. I was out of my element and comfort zone and while he recognized this, he also did not allow me to settle there for long. It is a talent, perhaps a gift to disagree with someone without shattering them. Most often disagreements, arguments, or discussions that devolve into defensive rants, never produce useful results. The removal of emotionalism from the discussion, the separation of behavior from personhood, is not an easy thing to accomplish.
My point: I appreciated and needed both approaches. Recently on the phone with Erin Sisson, we agreed that one of the greatest benefits in working with Mark and Miranda was NOT their similarity, but their distinct and unique differences. I initially, when I met them, thought that we would hear the same things from each. While they support and compliment each other, their approaches to the same goal are from different directions. Like the perpendicular warp and weft of woven fabric, they interweave, but the threads are unique and individual.
For the record I will never wear a WWM&MD bracelette either. Not because I do not respect and admire and trust them. It would not take a great mind to recognize my opinion of Mark and Miranda. But I think that possibly one of the best things I have learned from them is their support and respect for the individuality of the horses and people that they teach and serve. Trainers exist like the colors on an artist’s palette. There will always be trainers like Brian. Trainers and clinicians who speak much and say little. Trainers like Mark and Miranda are fewer and farther between. They are harder to find, they are quieter, they talk less but say far more. Sometimes, I have seen them talking not at all, but to think they are not speaking would be folly and simplistic. For every sentence spoken there are far more thought out and pondered. Wisdom holds the tongue in check. This creates a phenomenon known as “weighted words.” The concept that import comes less from the volume of words spoken than it does the impact and personalization of a few carefully chosen words.
This summer Mark and Miranda will be clinicians at the Mustang Family Reunion Ride in June. I would strongly encourage anyone who has not attended a clinic to come, observe, participate, question and ride. The options for attending are numerous and the above link will take you to that page for more information.
Recently I had a conversation with Miranda about riding my mare and I was discouraged. She told me something that I will forever remember. It didn’t take her an hour to come up with and it didn’t have the flowery poetic appeal that sometimes masquerades as wisdom. It is a poignant example of Miranda’s weighted words. It was really quite simple and yet somehow so profound. She said that sometimes in the midst of learning things we forget that horses are there for us to be with and enjoy, go ride your horse.