Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sociopaths and Sandhill Cranes

Sorting the Defective Brains from the Poorly Operated Ones

One of the horse bloggers I check in with periodically is starting an online reading group: WHOAprah Whinny’s Book Club. The blogger is pushing for the inaugural book to be The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. Her reasoning: She wants to understand horse abusers.

After scanning the reader reviews on Amazon.com, I may actually read Stout’s book. Not only does she identify the conscienceless and describe typical interactions we may have with them, she instructs readers in how to navigate these interactions.

Wish the book had been around in the previous century. Years ago my husband and I had only M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil to turn to. We were trying to understand the odd behavior of a theatre director. The book described this guy to a T and labeled him “evil.” Though it was a relief to read about our problem, it didn’t help us handle our problem. I suspect The Sociopath Next Door could also have helped us deal with Mr. Slimy, our nasty landlord in the Windy City (or any of the other psycho landlords we cycled through there). As for the horse blogger’s desire to understand horse abusers through this book, though, I’m not sure how enlightening it will be.

The Sociopath Next Door examines only one end of the spectrum—the folks whose brains are clearly physiologically without conscience. What the book probably doesn’t explain are the motivations driving the millions of other a _ _ holes out there who simply aren’t engaging their consciences. The folks who capably exhibit sympathy or empathy or compassion in some situations yet not in others.

A character in The Last Detective television series said: “Really decent people have a tendency to bring out the worst in the rest of us.” Could it really be that simple? Sometimes it is. I’ve seen it played out in the workplace.

The only way in which I can relate to this phenomenon is when one element of my personality is brought front and center by some opposing personality. For instance, an extroverted, authoritative personality (i.e., “bossy”) will meet a mute me; a timid, uncertain personality will be drawn out by an encouraging, courageous me. Both are elements of my personality, but they usually act in harmony with all the other elements. They don’t go solo except when provoked under certain circumstances. When this happens, I feel as if I’ve been taken hostage. Maybe it’s the same for some people when they run up against goodness. They can’t help it: Their antigoodness element gets switched into high gear and before they know it, they’ve said or done something despicable.

In the case of bullies, perceived inferiority, lack of intelligence, or weakness may trigger their nasty behavior. Unfortunately, animals fall into all three of those categories (not in reality; just in perception). And bullies aren’t the only ones classifying animals this way.

I’ve been watching Buck, the documentary film about Buck Brannaman’s gentle approach to starting and training horses. Brannaman endured years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father, and so seems to be able to understand the hypersensitive nature of horses. Yet, in one segment of the film, he treats cattle as if they were simply obstinate moving objects.* Which is pretty much how most animals deemed “livestock” get treated. Even horses fall into this category in some folks’ minds (see “Do Horses Live in the Moment” on Grey Horse Matters). It bothers me that Brannaman, who has so much empathy for horses, can traumatize calves and their mothers without a second thought.

I’m not saying Brannaman abuses the cattle. But he doesn’t offer them the same respect he shows for horses. Not all animals are equal.

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
—Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I don’t believe all animal abusers are completely without conscience. If that were true, then the number of sociopaths in our midst would be much higher than the 1% to 5% range researchers currently report. However, I do believe these people are deeply flawed. At least, their thinking is.

This subject has been top of mind for me recently because I’ve been invited to attend Kentucky’s upcoming Humane Lobby Day. Animal welfare advocates from all counties gather in the state capital and meet with politicians to press for change. Not long ago, the Bluegrass State fell dead last in the Humane Society’s state rankings on animal welfare. The low score was achieved by having few laws on the books to prosecute animal abusers in a meaningful way.

Certainly, laws are important in this battle, but once you have a law in place, you have to enforce it. And more than that (and this is the crux of the matter), people (residents, cops, lawyers, judges, etc.) have to comprehend the laws and understand the necessity for the laws, which requires a certain mindset regarding animals. While my peers push for new and stronger laws to be enacted, I will be pushing for this mindset to be instilled in Kentuckians. I’ve come to this decision, oddly enough, because of Sandhill Cranes…
to be continued

* I still recommend the film. The methods Brannaman uses with horses and the results he achieves are worth emulating.

[Top pic is Abbie, rescued from a “horse breeder” by Catskill Animal Sanctuary.]

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...