Monday, July 19, 2010

The Truth About Aggression

When we look around in our world, we can see aggression everywhere. It is on our roads and in our cities. It is in foreign lands and in grocery stores and workplaces. We certainly see it in the dog park and often when dogs meet along the sidewalk. No matter where or when we encounter it, we have an immediate emotional response and an almost compulsive inclination to try to stop it. In the process, we often end up displaying it ourselves. But what exactly is aggression? I propose that it isn't what we believe it to be. In fact, I’m going to suggest that the English-language dictionary made a huge mistake in defining it.

At its root, the word “aggress” describes creative action – “to advance, go to or approach for the purpose of conversing or advising with, asking counsel of, entreating or soliciting something of.” It was meant to communicate “taking steps, walking forth, living, and conducting one’s self.”

Our modern definition describes violent action - “to attack and to commit the first act of hostility or offense.”

The word's origin implies communication – an energetic exchange. It describes the natural type of force and power through which all things in the phenomenal world both come into being and survive. This is “aggression” as a constructive impetus. It is the power of energy directed into material action. The modern definition, on the other hand, describes acts that are destructive in nature. It confuses the poised, focused and directed action that is at the foundation of each creative act with violence and hostility. This mistake has changed us. It has changed our world and the way we perceive it. It has led us into conflict and wars – like the one we unconsciously wage against dogs who we believe to be “aggressive.”

Because we confuse natural aggressiveness with violence and fighting, we consider aggressiveness to be bad and wrong and when we believe that something is wrong, then in our experience it will be. We try to suppress aggressive thoughts and actions in ourselves, attempting to hide what we feel and what we think to be aggressive behavior. We have been trained to think that it is best to act nice and calm and we unconsciously impose this standard upon the dogs in our lives. In truth, we actually try to be “good” precisely because we fear or believe that we are so bad. We punish aggressiveness in children and we will not tolerate it in dogs in whose aggressiveness we see the worst forms of perversion, disrespect and dominance. We fail to see a difference between acting aggressively and actually being aggressive. Aggressiveness is a potential that lies within all living systems - it is not who or what they are.

Although we might like to think otherwise, we can not restrain energy - including the energy of natural aggression. It collects and grows and it will eventually seek fulfillment. Indeed, it is when we attempt to deny the natural, constructive elements of aggression that we finally do explode into violence. Violence is a distortion of aggression. It is an overwhelming surrender to emotions that we fear and it is accompanied by the passion for destruction.

Natural aggressiveness gives motive power to all of our thoughts and creative activity and we employ it daily. In fact, it would be impossible to have a living experience without it. In dogs, natural aggression is used with great integrity. It is highly evolved and developed, ritualized and perfectly spontaneous. Its signals are understood. The various degrees, postures and indications of natural aggressiveness are all steps in a series of communications in which the nature of canine encounters are made clear. An entire series of symbolic actions are carried out long before any conflict would take place and these are aimed at preventing violence.

Throughout the day, we have an endless variety of normal irritations and aggressive ideas and impulses that could actually be expressed quite safely and responsibly, providing a natural release and a system of communication. By trying to “stop-up” an inevitable force, we eventually experience only the type of explosive and distorted pseudo-aggression that causes rage, violence, wars, individual neurosis and a great many other problems. In this state, we blame "others," we lash out against them. We fight and attack and we punish the dog. This distortion, then, is what we think of as “aggression.” In fact, we feel compelled to prevent and stop aggressive displays in dogs because we believe that this is what they are exhibiting. In an awful twist, the constant suppression of natural aggression in canines will eventually lead to the very thing we wish to prevent. It will lead to the same type of extreme loss of emotional equilibrium that we experience when the energy finally finds an outlet.

We can better appreciate and understand our own true natures by watching dogs demonstrate theirs. Dogs understand the constructive forces of natural aggression. They allow their energetic impulses to discharge and this actually prevents violence and hostility and fosters peace. It makes each successive moment new and empty – ready to be filled with joyous possibility.