When I’m not traveling, and I get to spend the weekend in the city, Sundays are usually dedicated to good coffee and gentle recharging. There are quite a few good coffee shops in in Valencia, some of them toasting their own coffee and, in the last couple of years I extensively tested them. One of the best is called Los Picos and it’s very close to a newly opened park in Ruzafa.
After I finished my coffee this morning, I started my normal stroll towards the park. Just before the entrance there’s a big boulevard and you have to cross the street to enter the park. As I was waiting for the green light, I noticed, on the other side, a man waking is dog. He was waiting for the green light too.
As I started to walk towards them, I noticed another dog approaching the first one, from behind, this time walked by a lady. Strangely, when I got close to the first dog, at the same time with the second dog, I suddenly saw it scared, walking backwards and almost screaming. The lady with the second dog apologized and tried to reassure the owner of the scared dog that her pet is really harmless. And at this point, the man said: “Pero no es tu perro, es el sombrero”. “It’s not about your dog, it’s the hat”.
And then I realized: the dog was scared by my hat. It wasn’t the second dog that he was trying to avoid, but my hat.
As I passed them by, I looked over my shoulder and I saw the first dog slowly calming down and the owner engaging in a casual conversation with the lady, telling her something about his dog being poorly treated, at some point, by a man wearing a sombrero.
I entered the park thinking about this. There was a subtle tension in my mind, something about this encounter made me a bit anxious.
And then I realized why.
We’re all like that dog. We’ve all had, at some point in our lives, some sort of traumatic experience. Our minds, trying to protect us, created associations between the persons involved and the actual trauma, just so we can avoid them in the future. It was like: “you experienced something bad from this specific person, with this specific traits, try to avoid anyone similar to him / her from now on”.
Many traumas have been experienced at times in our lives where we couldn’t process them consciously. We just coped with the events, the way we could. And then we created this mechanism of protection, in which we identified the bad actors and instructed our system to get away from anything resembling to them.
But, you know, not every man wearing a sombrero had hurt that dog. And not all the people physically resembling to those who abused us are dangerous.
But still, because the trauma was experienced at a time where we couldn’t really understand all the factors involved, we created this automatic responses.
And that’s a serious problem.
I, for instance, I would have played with that dog all day long. I wouldn’t even think about hurting that cute thing, not in a hundred years. And still, the dog feared me.
We’re the same.
Because we identify traits of previous hurts in some people, we just push them away, without even being conscious about it. We may not even realize we’re pushing them away: the answer is so engrained in our system that we’re just saying: “well, this is who I am, thats how I behave, that’ what makes me, me”.
The traits that we’re seeing in another person are just some traits, some components, not the entire person. We’re seeing only the sombrero, yet we’re inferring that that person is the initial abuser. And we cope with that person the way we learned. Sometimes we play along only to delude and safely discard them later, sometimes we just run away directly, sometimes we’re just shutting down and avoiding any type of interaction.
As I sat on a bench in the park I started to think at the dog again.
“I guess it will take a while for me to be able to play with that dog. But, eventually, I think I could do that. If only would I have enough time and patience. If only could I stay around long enough to let the dog know that I’m harmless, even though I wear a sombrero.”
Try to think about that next time you’re pushing someone, or something, away.
You may just fear a harmless sombrero.