Here I am on an important business call in my home office and my dog, which a moment earlier was laying peacefully at me feet, has leapt up from his sound sleep and begun to bark. He is in full protector mode. All 85 lbs of him is on call and vibrating. His head is lifted and his nose is sniffing for trouble. Tail up as an antenna, head swiveling, he is running from corner to corner of the room and barking.
As I retreat to another room and close the door to escape the deafening din of my dog, my colleague on the phone asks what happened.
“The little dog three doors down is barking and my dog heard it through the window. He’s barking because some other dog he can’t see is barking.”
It’s kind of crazy when I think about it. My dog is in full alarm mode because some other dog he doesn’t even know is barking. And it isn’t a complex language with nuance, right? It’s like someone on your street yelling out the window suddenly “Hey, Hey, Hey! Something! Something! I don’t know what, but SOMETHING!”
I can laugh at the non-sequitor barking of my dog, but it occurs to me that we humans aren’t much more evolved than dogs. Fear strikes just like that. For example, I hear someone talk about how tough it is to get work as a freelancer, that it’s hard times and untalented people are rising to the top and it’s all doom and gloom. And just like my dog, I’m up and joining in the chorus. I’m pulling out all my doom stories. My Pandora’s box of ‘woe is me’ is open, and before I know it the barking of “Things are terrible, run for the hills for protection” is all I can hear.
Fear talk is insidious. Hearing another person ‘barking’ in this way, we can all get sucked it to join with the chorus, just like my dog. We can justify this group panic barking with all sorts of ways. We think that we’re bonding with another in a tough place. Or we justify our participation in fueling this talk because this is the voice of reality. Once we join in this kind of conversation, we close down our emotions and constrict in fear. We start to bark in panic.
But barking from the land of fearful thoughts is just me, like my dog, hearing a scary noise and acting from my lizard brain stem. I’m reacting to phantom noises, with skewed views of the past and a future built on wild imaginings of worst-case scenarios. In the end, I’m not doing much more than yelling out “I’m afraid that life isn’t safe! I don’t know what is out there. I’m uncertain!”
It takes my dog a few minutes to realize that there is nothing going on outside. The other dog has stopped barking and moved on to a chew toy or some such thing. My dog drops the storyline, stops the barking, and with a full-throated sigh, stretches out in the sun at my feet again, and starts to peacefully snore.