“There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who divide everyone into two kinds of people, and those who don’t.”
I put this in quotes because I’m sure I heard it somewhere before. I Googled it and found lots of funny and not so funny ways of playing around with this common, very human tendency of ours to put people into categories.
One problem is, we don’t quite fit in those boxes, do we?
A bigger problem is, it is very destructive. In fact, I believe it is the first victory of the devil in every spiritual battle, to convince us that this is the way the world is: People like us and people like “those people.” You know the kind.
Life on the farm never ever falls into the proper categories. I’m tempted often to go out and shoot sparrows and starlings because they are the two kinds of bad birds and the jays, woodpeckers, cardinals, chickadees, and others are definitely the good ones. Just then they amuse me with their chirping and their tenaciousness. I still hate them, but I can’t write them off.
I remember my badger-faced North Country Cheviot sheep. I had a few of them; and I couldn’t register them, because they had strips of color on their faces that disqualified them. I thought they looked more like Groucho Marx than badgers; but the thing that really impressed me was that they were always the very last ones to be caught when it came to vaccinations, and they fought like crazy at foot trimming time.
And the dogs. Oh, the dogs. I grew up with one dog at a time in the house. My experience was so limited I thought dogs were dogs. When I started talking to stock dog handlers they said all dogs were different, and I thought, “How different can they be?” The answer is, VERY different. Dogs from the very same litter, in my experience, are as varied as they can be.
And it seems to me the inexperience of stock dog handlers can be predicted by how confidently they pigeon-hole dogs: “This dog is hard and that one soft. This one is strong-eyed and this one loose-eyed.” The wiser they get the more trainers and handlers see all this as hooey. Dogs are really on an infinite continuum. And, just as humans can be neat in one aspect of their lives and messy in others, so dogs are full of surprises. And soft dogs can suddenly show a great ability to take pressure. And weaker dogs can get surprisingly strong if their trainer can just put them in the right situations.
Our Floss was so careful with sheep, and with keeping sheep marching in straight lines, that it appeared she was weak. But she was an absolute guided missile when it came to going in tight corners to muscle out stubborn ewes. And my youngest dog, Zac, appears so awfully tentative when working with my own mentor, Gordon Watt, but working with me he is way too abrupt, bold and pushy.
There is one DNA test that has been developed to show when a dog has a defect called Collie Eye Anomaly. It can tell us with 100% accuracy if the dog is affected by the defect, if the dog isn’t affected, but carries the gene to pass it on if it is mated with another carrier, and if the dog is completely clear of the gene. Breeders are, naturally thrilled that this marker can show the presence of this single genetic mutation. But there is no test to tell you if the dog is a good dog or a bad one. That depends on so many combinations of genes that we will never know. And that also depends on something absolutely mysterious. Indeed, I’ve seen one dog, completely blind, competing quite well with the best dogs in the world. I’ve seen a three-legged dog doing outstanding work. And I know for a fact that dogs that make their handlers pull out their hairs in frustration, go home and do miraculous work on the home place, lower their owner’s blood pressure, and make the oxytocin flow with fantastic snuggles in the barn or on the couch.
What a chaotic mess this world is. All the animals, all the people, all the things seem to defy our efforts to smugly categorize and polarize. It’s a messy world indeed, and that’s at the heart of its beauty.