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More insights from canines

I was jogging with Serena, our new puppy, the other day, and I became contemplative when I observed her behavior around other people.  During this jog, there were at least half a dozen people that came across our path.  With every one, Serena became very aggressive.  The hair on the back of her neck stood straight up.  She was terrified.  She growled, she bared her teeth.  She tried to chase after the person after they passed us (going the other way).  Konan's behavior was very similar, while we had him.  Kole was more friendly toward other people, but still not completely trusting as some dogs are.

Of course, there may be some explanation in both nature and nurture here in this phenomenon, but I believe that nurture does play a significant role.  I have heard from dog trainers and people more versed with animals than myself that dogs need to socialize in order to learn good manners.  They need to be around other people and other dogs in order to develop social skills, just the same way humans need social interaction.

It would appear to me that the phenomenon happening is tribalism.  Social behavior in animals has been selected by nature because it has proven to work to the benefit of the survival of a species.  We humans are just one of the many examples of social animals that are alive today.  Dogs are another example.  Dogs (wolves) live in packs.  They protect and defend members of their own packs and are aggressive toward creatures which are not members of the pack.  They hunt together, they ward off danger and predators.  There are many reasons that working together with the in-group and being wary of anyone in the out-group is beneficial.

Tribalism has been seen all throughout human history, and is currently seen as well.  Now we call it things like "patriotism" or "nationalism".  We may even call it things like "gay pride".  At any rate, it seems to be a relic of traits that we evolved over millions of years.

Back to the analogy, it does seem that in general, dogs who are around new people often are less aggressive toward strangers than dogs who are seldom around new people.  I don't know much about canine psychology to fully understand the concept, but it got me thinking about the phenomenon in humans.  What I have observed in my own personal life is that people who are exposed to new ideas and new groups of people are more understanding, more compassionate, and more hesitant to be aggressive and cruel to others.  Those who are sheltered, who interact primarily with familiar people--those who speak mostly with people of their own political or religious affiliation, for example--tend to be more hateful, less kind, more angry and even sometimes violent.

I've seen democrats and republicans alike, each yelling at the other group at the top of their lungs about how evil they are.  To me this is not unlike a dog barking at a stranger.  I have seen libertarians radicalized to the point where they feel any form of organized government is evil and anarchy should be the rule.  These people often lash out at liberals and conservatives alike (in turn for different reasons), ridiculing or cussing out anyone who even hints that government can be useful.  I've seen atheists barking at Christians.  I've seen Muslims barking at atheists.  I've seen all kinds of radicalized groups, and the one thing they have in common is aggression toward anyone outside the group.

I think that one reason an education is useful is because it forces exposure to new ideas and new people.  I have noticed that academia is more open-minded, and less prone to aggression because the constant exposure to diversity.  When I got hired at Morehouse college, it wasn't even a question in my mind whether I'd be discriminated against for being gay.  On the contrary, I would have been surprised if it had ended up being an issue.  This is in sharp contrast with the LDS church which pushed me away as soon as I came out of the closet.  My church leaders told me that I was not to teach Sunday School classes or serve in any of the capacities I had been serving at the time.  However, I'm welcome to teach at my college.  And I think that one big difference is exposure to diversity.  My college sees gay people all the time and accepts them.  My bishop may not have known a single gay person personally before I came out of the closet (he might have, I honestly don't know, but it's possible that he didn't).  Certainly he doesn't associate with many gay people on a regular basis.

I feel like one of the things that can help push toward the goal of world peace--toward a happier and more harmonious society--is socialization.  Mix and mingle.  Meet new people.  Talk to people who are different.  Make friends with someone that disagrees with you politically.  Listen to someone's religious beliefs that you don't personally believe.  There is richness and color in diversity.  There is beauty in celebrating differences.

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