Recognition and Respect
Sunday is dog walking day for me. I get out of bed around 6:30 a.m., dress quickly, retrieve the New York Times from my doorstep and drive to a parking spot just over the Park St. bridge to read for a while until my friend Larry and his three-legged dog Maggie emerge from their home and beckon me to walk. We walk along the waterway at a measured pace as befits a three-legged dog and talk about the state of the world, our families and ourselves.
Along the way we’ll meet multiple people and their dogs also out for a morning amble in pursuit of the dogs doing their “business”. The dogs we meet come in all shapes and sizes and colors and hair lengths and personalities and yet are recognized as dogs by one another and by us. The tiny, feisty terrier who acts like a mastiff or the large, rambunctious, long haired dog of indeterminate breed and every combination in between immediately recognize one another as dogs and do the same doggy things to one another regardless of appearance. They sniff each other’s butt, in fact sniff each other all over while deciding in some mysterious way whether they can be friends, enemies, lovers or indifferents.
“Isn’t it remarkable that they all see the essential dog beneath the physical appearance,” commented Larry. “Humans are much less differentiated and often miss the humanity we all share.”
I was surprised by this statement as Larry is a highly intelligent and observant person and I took exception to “humans are much less differentiated…”
“We too”, I remarked, “are at least as differentiated as dogs. We come in five major colors, hundreds of ethnicities and every combination of hue, size, hair type, physiognomy and aspect. The large person from Samoa next to the tiny person from Southeast Asia, the Viking contrasted with the Bushmen of the Kalahari, any ethnic compared to any other, we are differentiated by thousands of years of isolation and hundreds of years of the slow re-mixing. We are as different as the different breeds of dogs, yet the dogs recognize each other’s “dogness” and treat the other like a fellow being.
Humans, paradoxically, often fail to recognize the essential humanity of one another and often treat one another like dogs. Humans are blinded by our biases to conjure what we believe are essential differences between us and fail miserably in seeing and accepting the essential sameness. This failure to see our common humanity leads to easy “dehumanization” of one another and serves to facilitate hatred and in extreme cases, genocide.
We can see that all dogs are dogs regardless of breed or appearance. Our failure to see all humans as human is a failure of our cultures. Of course many humans can see the humanity in all others and act accordingly, which is to say respectfully. Dogs find it easy, so should we.