Friday, September 22, 2006

Sign Me Up

I’m puzzling over an aspect of human nature I don’t understand. What causes people, I include myself, to care about something strongly enough to get involved, to actually spend time and effort on it?

This is on my mind because right now I am struggling to put together a large event for a non-profit off-leash dog park I am involved in with only a handful of people helping at all and many of them in very limited ways. What’s puzzling to me is that every time I am at the dog park, I have at least one conversation with someone who talks about how great the park is, how much they value being able to go there with their dog, and, yet, most of the time, these people are not even members of the support group, much less volunteers.

Please don’t misunderstand my position. I am not feeling any judgment about why these people feel the way they do and act the way they do. This example is only what got me to thinking about the issues.

My reasons for being involved with the group seem to me to be a fair bit about self-interest. First of all, my very high-energy dog requires a lot of exercise. When he was a puppy, I surely would have gone insane had it not been for the off-leash dog park that opened not far from our house. We took him three times a day until he was about a year and half. Then, we were able to taper him down to two times a day. He is six now and one 45-minute run suffices if I supplement it with a half hour on-leash walk at night, but he is always eager to go back to the dog park on the days we do take a second trip.

So, working to maintain and promote off-leash dog parks has been a great personal benefit to me. Further, during a period when we moved three times in five years for my husband’s career, becoming involved in the off-leash dog parks in the new areas helped us make friends. Dog people make great friends.

Then I think about all the other things I believe in, many of them passionately, with some of them, I even believe I should become involved. Bringing about political change in this country since I hate the way it is going right now, domestic and/or sexual violence against women and children, the hospice movement, bringing new kinds of education into our schools, the list goes on quite a ways. Many of these things would seem on the face of them to be more important than the cause I am involved in. I think about these issues, and sometimes I even think about becoming involved in them, but that is as far as the impulse goes.

Perhaps it is because, to me, dogs represent pure innocence and love, and yet are regarded mostly as chattel in our world. Their senses and what they know and value, so much better than ours in some ways, are so alien that they are totally discounted by much of human society. And, against us human beings, like so much of the world, they are defenseless.

Perhaps some of the other issues I care about seem too global, too overwhelming, too much like dashing myself against a rock. Perhaps these other issues are so painful I must keep my distance in order to stay whole. This one little local issue, off-leash dog parks, is one where I know my efforts can make a visible difference, and where I can bear it most of the time.

So, for other people, what groups, what causes, what efforts they make in the community, shaped as they are by that person’s experiences, needs, etc., can be completely different from my own or anyone else’s. I guess I am OK with that. There seem to be enough causes to go around.

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