This morning my friend Tanya posted on Facebook about a violent incident she witnessed in her neighborhood. A man was kicking his dogs with his children crying and screaming nearby. He kicked one into the street where it was run over by a car and “died instantly.” Afterwards he returned laughing to the house.
More disturbing to me were the follow-up comments by Tanya’s Facebook friends who said things like, “I would like to be the one to kick him into the street and laugh as he got run over,” “People who abuse dogs should be tortured,” and “Guys like that don’t deserve to live.”
The scenario has lingered in my mind all morning, and I feel called to reflect on it. I posted, “I am enjoined to love my enemies.” What does that mean? I certainly am not called to approve of the man’s actions. I am, however, challenged to have compassion. Father Tom said the other night that “compassion” was “invented” by early Christians. I don’t know if I buy that. However, compassion is the kind of love I think Jesus means, so I am going to explore my compassion for the principals in the story: the dead dog, the children, the other dogs, the driver of the car, the man, and the Facebook posters who want revenge.
The dead dog: If indeed the dog “died instantly,” then my compassion for it is small. In fact, the dog is better off out of a household where it gets constant abuse. Ironically, the posters seem to value the dog more than any of the others in the story and want to commit murder and torture to avenge it.
The children: One of the most shocking memories from my childhood was the day I heard my dad yell the word “Fuck” and slam the door of his Jeep, angry that he had forgotten to set the parking brake. I will never forget how ugly his face looked at that moment. He was transformed into a stranger, a monster. The children who had to see their father committing this ugly cruelty will probably never forget that day. The image of their daddy as their protector and model is forever shattered (if it hadn’t been shattered before). Whether or not they follow their father’s example and perpetuate the cycle of violence, they get my compassion.
The other dogs: I feel more for the other dogs than for the dead one. They seem doomed to a life of fear and pain. Perhaps some mature adult in the family will try to find better homes for them.
The driver of the car: I feel compassion for the innocent bystander drawn into this horror story just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I hope that he can avoid feeling guilt for the accident.
The man: Now here’s the hard one. Tanya says she can “feel sorry” for the man but not “love” him. I think she is saying “compassion” in different words. Anger can be the result of loss of control in our lives. The man had clearly lost control of his dogs when they ran away. But chances are the man has lost control in other areas: he has a low-paying job and a manager who treats him disrespectfully, his wife is distant since he has become so abusive, his kids are withdrawn or rebellious, and he has taken to drinking more than is good for him. The one place where he has always been boss is with the dogs, and today that all fell apart, too. When he ran amok, kicking the dogs, he lost control of himself. Addiction to power and control separates us from Love. We think we are God and we run the show. When the falsity of that stares us in the face, we get angry. The man couldn’t control the dogs; my dad couldn’t control the Jeep; they both got angry and ugly. I have compassion because I have done this myself many times, though not to a dog. When I feel loss of power, I get angry.
The Facebookers: For Tanya I feel much compassion because she witnessed the event. Though there may be some truth that we have become inured to violence on TV and in films, I am still shocked by violence in person. People are never more ugly and sub-human than when they are hitting each other or kicking animals. I hate seeing this side of us, and Tanya can be compassionated for her emotions and her desire to get away from there.
Some of Tanya’s friends are in the same boat with “the man.” They are angry that they can’t control the actions of others, so they are willing to act out their anger in violence. Perhaps violence was modeled for them in their childhood. It is modeled for them on television and other media. Don’t like someone’s actions—kick his ass! Also, Facebook tends to escalate emotional posts. Since you are not face-to-face with the person you are answering, you might feel free to use more inflammatory language than you would use in person. Your violent words may touch off a powder-keg of divisive replies that lead to people saying things they would never say in a different context. Also, people talk big. It’s easy to say you would torture someone or push them laughing in front of a car, but can you actually see yourself doing so?
Thank you, God, for laying this incident so heavily on my heart. I hope that my reflections are in line with your gospel. You made us in your image and you love us all, even the man who killed his dog. Only love, which you are, can heal this whole scenario, and I pray that your will be done. Amen.