They say that life used to be much simpler. They say that there once was a time when gender roles and expectations were pretty straightforward and uncomplicated. Local society was more connected even though communication and travel took so much longer. They say that for the progress we’ve made, somehow we’ve lost sight of what is supposed to be important.

My Pappy is fond of saying that the world has been going to hell in a hand-basket since the rise of Greek civilization. In other words, every generation thinks the grass was greener in memories or perceptions of yesteryear. The next group is always mucking up what their forefathers built for them. I’m not sure how meaningful this all is or if will ever change.

However, what I am concerned about is the fact that while perception of better or worse is solely based on the individual and therefore, not dependable, the fact remains that our society has had some drastic sea changes in the way we deal with one another. Some of this is technology related in that virtual society lends itself to dehumanizing behavior that would not have been as wide acceptable in times where people couldn’t hide behind silicon. But we can’t blame our piss poor interactions with one another solely on Al Gore. The problems started well before the advent of the Internet.

“…Back when men were men and the women were ladies.” If you are over the age of 30, no doubt you’ve heard some old coot holler those words in reference to something that made little sense at the time. Some folks long for the good old days when the character and expectations of men were very clear. Men work and support their families. They are strong, they don’t cry, and they always put their family first. Women nurture and take care of the family. They can cry all they want so long as the home and children are well taken care of. Above all else, men and women work together for the betterment of their children and society at large.

It’s a nice 50’s style picture that’s painted here but it doesn’t reflect social and political reality. It assumes all people are equal in the eyes of God and therefore are all capable of the same functions. Whether people realize it or not, women’s suffrage and the subsequent women’s workers rights movement was not a radical idea carried out by people trying to topple the natural order of things. Looking back, one could argue that it was in fact a natural extension of the idea that not all women should or could be nurturing wives and mothers. Leaving out abuse and drugs as reasons for why some women are broken, sometimes, well before those variables take root, within the character of the woman herself, it is established that she should not be raising a family. She, whomever she may be, may actually be better suited for the business world instead. The natural order of things doesn’t necessarily make for a good bedfellow with the psychological reality of the same thing.

This follows for men as well. The idea that men are supposed to conduct themselves like laborious robots without a soul is preposterous in the extreme. Obviously some of the greatest artists in history were men and sensitive, non-traditional ones at that.

Perceived standard gender roles, in my opinion, are probably one of the leading reasons why so many have done given up the ship and proceeded down the path of not even trying to be decent to those they are connected with. When you have few choices, it’s easy to fill the role given to you by society. However, the future, progress, is rife with choices. Once people had choices suddenly people were abandoning their given roles left and right to relive the adolescent experience of trying out new identities until they found one that fit. You may recognize this as the general definition of a Generation X’er but in reality, this issue was around well before the establishment of Generation X.

So with all this role confusion and unlimited choice in who or what you can be, naturally people don’t or have just plum forgot how to act around one another. For example, if your granddad was a complete puss, because when he looked deep inside that’s who he realized he was and thus embraced his inner pansy, how do you suppose his child, your dad, was going to learn what the attributes, actions and responsibilities are for when he finally becomes a man? So now your dad is lost in the wilderness trying to find these answers for himself and before he really knows who he is, you come along. Now you’re the receptacle of two generations of incomplete or just plain wrong answers. This is why many women look at guys today and ask, “Who the hell raised you?” Well nobody did really, and that’s half the problem. With no clear guidelines for behavior we’ve been raising ourselves for generations and just making it up as we go along.

This problem has been massively made worse by the embracing of subjective morality and relativism but that is an essay for another day.

So now what? For reasons well beyond what I’ve cited above, men and women can’t seem to get it together anymore. We are divorced at a rate of 50% and I’m sure that will rise as time passes. Baby births are dropping steadily across the Western world and those that are born into modern society seem to be born into broken, dysfunctional or perpetually one parent homes.

What exactly are we supposed to do about this? How do we as men and women find a place where we can communicate effectively as adults with one another? I have a solution to this problem and like all things in my life that operate in concentric circles; it comes from the wonderful world of rehab. They say that once you get clean from drugs and alcohol, and you are ready for some sort of connection, you should by a plant. Later on, if the plant is still alive you should get a pet. If the pet and plant are alive after a year or so, you can try connecting with another human being. Essentially that is my solution for learning how to form, nurture and ultimately cherish a lasting relationship. Since the problem is we’ve collectively forgotten how to deal with one another, the answer is to learn by practicing. To that extent, I suggest everyone that ones to become a fully realized human being that can deal effectively with other people should get a dog.

Let me apologize to all the cat people out there, in this sociological experiment, cats don’t count. Cats are like hookers; sure they can show love but only after you put the money (or the tender vittles as it were) on the table first. And then they leave just as soon as they’ve felt you’ve paid for enough love. Cats are too selfish to really teach us how to behave.

Dogs, as I have discovered recently make the perfect tool for reshaping ones psyche. You see, as I stated above, once we threw away our accepted roles and proceeded to wallow in our own flatulence, we became a collectively selfish bunch solely fixated on our needs, wants and identities. Hume (my 1.5 year old West Highland Scottish Terrier) has shown me in a scant period of time that if I don’t stop thinking of just myself and start thinking about his needs too, I’m going to find myself, quite literally, knee deep in poop. There’s nothing like the threat of a sea of feces to motivate you to think about someone other than yourself.

Fecal matter aside, as I’m just now going through the divorce/adjustment process, having a dog acts a much-needed anchor. Again, we all need to feel a connection to someone. We all need to feel needed as well loved or at least recognized. Having a dog that simply gets excited the moment I walk through the door does that without becoming so needy that I have to immediately leave the building. Why? Because he’s a dog. There’s no talking involved here. What people don’t realize is how grossly unprepared they are for dealing with another human on an intimate level. The problem is that many people do in fact realize this but instead buying a dog, they apply the same practice regiment on children. This always works out badly for both the unrealized adult as it does for the innocent child that should never have been used for a sociological experiment.

Dogs on the other hand work great for this sort of thing. I know I have a lot of figuring out to do. I know that role and identity confusion will plague me for a long time. Until these are less of an issue, it is unfair and impractical of me to unload these issues on another person who has their own role and identity issues to figure out. And for those that don’t, well their role in life is certainly not to help me find mine. That’s a big part of the reason why relationships don’t work out in the first place. You can’t form a whole when there’s pieces of you scattered all over the place.

So for now there’s just my dog and me – a boy and his dog. A physical adult male having to relearn communication and interpersonal skills all over again like an awkward adolescent or even for the first time in order to some day have meaningful and fulfilling relationships. I walk him three times a day (2 when I’m working). He has to be fed daily. I have to pay attention to him and love him, even when I’d rather be doing something else. I have to put his needs over my own and do so without resentment because he cannot do for himself. When I’m able to consistently do this without issue, then I can think about connections to actual people, and then only those people who are not in the healing process themselves.

As a society, let’s work on our interpersonal relationships with pets first before we go running willy-nilly into yet more bad relationships with people.

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