My friend Maggie invited me over to last weekend to look at her garden. It was beautiful. Situated in her front yard, it featured an array of interesting rocks, beautiful flowers and small but hopeful shrubs. We sat in the sun for a few minutes taking it all in.
Soon, Maggie, who walks her St. Elmo neighborhood for an hour mostly every day, was ready to take me with her on her jaunt.
"I want you to meet my friends," she said eagerly. They mostly turned out to be furry friends, as in dogs. We walked along "meeting" them. They stood at attention, wagging their tales and gazing at her with measured anticipation.
She reached inside the waist pack I hadn't even noticed she'd put on and passed out treats. The dogs responded with even more vigorous tail-wagging and licks to her knuckles. "This is how I overcame my fear of dogs so that I could walk the neighborhood," she explained. I marveled at her ingenuity.
Not all the dogs had been won over, yet. One barked at us as we approached, but Maggie simply showed him a treat, and he settled down as we passed. We encountered an aggressive dog that must've been new on the block. He was unchained, ferocious looking, and after a few aggressive snarls, he charged us. I felt as though everything went into slow motion as I stared, frozen to the ground, wondering how we'd escape what seemed to be our inevitable fate.
Maggie calmly reached in her bag, tossed out her treat just as he was about to pounce, and he went completely silent, hesitantly sniffing her delectable before seizing it and returning to his own yard.
"Wow!" I exclaimed. "That was amazing." I would've tried to kick him. I would've screamed and maybe cried as I fought him bravely had he jumped me. But that would have been traumatizing for us both. Maggie's way was peaceful, graceful, even brilliant. She simply made friends with them all.
This reminded me of a story another friend once told me about one of her aunts. She lived in an area of her city that had once been a wonderful middle-class neighborhood but had become somewhat distressed over time. She loved flowers and planted them every spring in her front yard. One day, some teenage girls came by and pulled her freshly planted flowers out of the dirt. They waited for her response. She planted more. They pulled those out. The aunt said, "Take all you want" and planted more. Finally, the girls gave up and pulled flowers from someone else's yard.
My friend explained in so many words that negativity is best dealt with in the flow of one's own kindness and love. Most of us have great difficulty with this. We feel defeated by our fears, our negative surroundings, those ever-present difficult people. We think we must always fight those things head-on, to beat them back in screams and tears, when often we could simply back them down through our own sense of peace and love.
That peace, projected onto others, unnerves and disarms them. It is the nonviolent resistance of the freedom fighters of old. It can bring down entire social systems, let alone one irritating human or a street full of barking dogs.
Tabi Upton, MA-lpc, is a local therapist and founder of www.chattanoogacounselor.com, a resource website. Comment online or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.