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Homer comes from an environment in which "what you see, is what you get." In Homer's world, things are kind of 'black and white,' and he continually wonders about the games that humans play at all levels with friends and loved ones

What's The Catch?

When most of you are in the company of dogs, you generally behave as if no one is listening. We get to see you as you really are, but most of us are not capable of talking about it. Dogs like me are treated like 'the furniture;' barely noticed, rarely recognized, and given little validity in human-speak. But those of us who are observers actually get to see and hear the 'real you' and get to know you better than your spouse or your shrink.

As I watch you folks react, interact, and "act out" right before my eyes, it is hard not to compare you to other species of animals with whom I am familiar. With the human race, everything seems to be a 'deal.' No other vertebrates that I know of -- do this. As I watch these scenarios, I have come to realize all too well that there is no 'free lunch' for the human species.

Let me give you a quick example: I am out on one of my morning sojourns around our neighborhood, and the lady in the farmhouse down past the Tipton Farm whistles me up onto her porch to offer me a warm bone that she has discarded from yesterday's roast. I collect my prize, wag my tail happily, grasp the bone in my mouth, and leave. Bone offered, received, and accepted with thanks; done deal, end of story.

Now, visualize yourself navigating your way down your walk on a snowy day when one of your neighbor's sons shouts over, "beautiful morning, Mr. Jones, would you like me to shovel off your walk?" Before you answer, you ask yourself, "What's the catch?" And then, suddenly, your response becomes entirely predictable; "And what will it cost me?" Your mindset has immediately taken you into a defensive position, and your guard is up. Your mind completely rejects the possibility that this might be an act of neighborly kindness, on the kid's part, and you immediately probe for the cost (or obligation) that you will sustain by saying "Yes." Instead of simply accepting a simple act of kindness, saying "thank you" and going back into your house with your newspaper, you have begun your first human negotiation of the day.

You folks seem to be at a point in your evolutionary process where you have become resigned to the fact that nothing is going to be totally free without some strings or conditions attached. Conversely, in most cases, it would never occur to you to grab your snow shovel and go over to your neighbor's house uninvited and start shoveling his walk or driveway alongside him. With your superior God-given intelligence, one of you would "over-think" that simple gesture to death, and probably come up with a negative connotation of some sort - like "Doesn't he think I am young and physically fit enough to do it myself?!"

The 'art of the deal' isn't just reserved for neighbors and acquaintances. It is alive and well between loving spouses and siblings. Can you think of any 'deals' that you might have made recently? I see it happen all the time with loving family members resorting to conditional behavior. The husband offers to carry all of the luggage from the car, up to their room on the second floor if his spouse will agree to take the car to the dealer for service next week. Basically it comes down to, "I'll do this for you if you will do that for me." These 'games' can become endless and very complicated once couples begin to play them. They all come down to negotiation.

Without belaboring the point, what I'm trying to ask here is when did you folks stop believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Good Samaritan? You have a tendency to look at a gift, kindness, or gesture of good will as a new 'obligation' that requires some sort of repayment. Looking askance at, and trying to find underlying motives (the catch) in acts of simple kindness, can certainly blunt your claims of faith in your fellow man.

The other day, Isabel had a flat tire on her way into town. She returned home later and told Micah that a shabbily dressed man in an old pickup truck stopped and offered to change it for her. Fearing for her safety, she told the man that she had help on the way, and got runs in both knees of her pantyhose changing out the tire by herself. Later in the day, she discovered that her "Good Samaritan" was the new hired man down at Lisa Tipton's apple orchard; Isabel just failed to recognize the truck.

It would be easy to say that the world that we are living in is changing for the worse, and that people aren't as trustworthy as they once were. I think that the same untrustworthy people are still hanging around, but we fear them because we hear more about them in the news media.

From my observations, people seem to enjoy helping, mentoring, and giving. There are many more nurturers among us than you will ever know. Animals accept their gifts and kindnesses freely and without fanfare because most animals have nothing to give back but their unconditional love and loyalty.

Next time you think about 'making a deal,' try cutting the strings off of your 'gift package,' sit back, and enjoy the power of your simple gesture. Sometimes the grateful "thank you" that you receive will far exceed any response you might have expected.

Life is far easier if you don't 'overthink' things; its the simple things that count.

© 2010-2011 David Johnson, All Rights Reserved