In the park Flynn, my sisters Lurcher spots him first and takes off like the wind, hurtling through the trees and off down towards the lake where the path meanders, with the others soon in hot pursuit. “It’s Stuart,” I say, with a resigned half-smile. I know what’s coming. “That bloody man. He’s such a nuisance”. It’s true, he is. But they’re dogs and they’ll do anything for a biscuit.
It’s a strange peculiarity familiar, I suspect, to all dog owners. The random people in the park who insist, despite often repeated protestation, on feeding other peoples dogs.
“Why does he do it?” Clare asks as she trudges relentlessly forward, now past the point where she would have gone and fetched the hounds from the canine pied piper. We’ve been here before, and her question is rhetorical, but I answer anyway. “He does it because it makes him feel good”.
Sometimes we’re so desperate for love we stoke the illusion of generosity not because we really want to give but because we figure its the only way for us to get what we want.
Back at home, as the dog flops onto the sofa exhausted from running, swimming and biscuits, I notice the light is blinking on the answering machine. I hope it’s a nuisance call trying to sell me insurance or offering to clean my oven because, if not, it’s probably a new client and I’ll have to say “No”.
I hate saying “no” because I am like Stuart. I like giving out biscuits.
Whenever I say “No” I fear that people won’t like me. I fear that the clients will stop coming if I have the temerity to turn new ones away. Then I’ll run out of money, lose my house and have to live under the subway. It will be, I imagine, a kind of smart-arse karma.
This problem often comes up in supervision. As I enter the room, “Hi Graham, how are you?”. Even before I’ve properly sat down I vomit a reply, like an addict admitting to his latest lapse, “I’m fine, but I’m seeing too many people.” Her face softens and I prepare for the scolding which doesn’t come, “I thought you were going to stop that”.
I was. I try. It’s so hard. The big eyes, the expectation. The obedient sit. How can you resist?
In a search for the Holy Trinity of emotional safety, Value, Love and Acceptance, it always feels as if they are put at risk by the word “No” and are secured by a hefty supply of dog treats to hand out indiscriminately.
Saying “Yes” when you mean “No” combined with a singular inability to say “No” and replace it with “Yes” is a recipe for unstable relationships and disastrous self-esteem.
I think about all the times I have given in my relationships only because I wanted something in return.
I think about all the times I said “Yes” and then experienced the bitter taste of resentment in my mouth and the feelings of self-loathing because I hadn’t the courage to be true to myself and say “No”.
In the woods alone with the dog, she disappears into the scrub racing around like a lunatic. I know that this behaviour indicates she can smell something, and it’s almost certainly something disgusting she’s about to roll in. I shout to her with as much authority as I can muster “NO Daisy. LEAVE IT.”. She looks at me and, to my surprise, she leaves whatever it is and comes back to heel, walking happily along wagging her tail. As a reward, I give her a biscuit.