Looking in the eyes

When I was in the seventh grade, I used to walk past this dog every day on my way to school. It was a small dog – some kind of a poodle, I suppose – but it guarded a big house and took its job seriously. Every morning and every afternoon when I walked past the house, it barked furiously. I was annoyed so I planned all kinds of schemes how to get rid of the wretched creature. In the end I chose to execute the simplest one of them, which was to stare it to death.

So every day, I would stare at the dog right in the eyes until I had passed the house. At first the dog barked at me like it had before. But in the matter of weeks its barks turned softer and then muted completely. My staring didn’t result in the dog’s death but it did the next best thing: the dog recognized me and didn’t bark at me anymore.

It was autumn then, and for the winter the owner kept the dog inside. At the start of the spring the dog came back to its guarding routine, but it didn’t bark at me anymore. I walked past that house to school for the next two years. Only once I talked to the owner of the dog. She said: “I wonder why the dog barks at everyone else and not you?”

That’s actually a good question. Obviously it was because of my looking the dog in the eyes, but what was the ultimate reason? Had I established that I was the master and it the servant? Or did it consider me someone familiar and of equal status, its pal?

I’ve come to believe the latter. When we look someone in the eyes, we acknowledge that they exist, are worthy looking at, and that we are not afraid. It is a good start.

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