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August 31, 2007

The Dog You Feed (Part 1)

(Admin note: This is the piece that I hesitated in posting earlier in the week. It eventually has an analogy to training – it’s just going to take me a while to get there.

The subject matter is a bit of a departure for me, and pulled me in so many different directions that were so difficult to verbalize, that I kept meandering off on one tangent after another, and things just got too wide-ranging for a single post. So today’s installment is basically a long-winded introduction to a larger theme that I’ll address further (but hopefully, much more concisely) next week.

I think it will all come together in due time – but for now, you’ll just have to take my word for it. Or, if you’re someone who flips to the back of the book before reading the mystery, I suppose you could just check back next week to see where the heck I’m going with all of this.)


“I really need to talk to you Lord –
Since the last time we talked, the walk has been hard-
I know you haven’t left me, but I feel like I’m alone –
I’m a big boy now but I’m still not grown –
I’m still goin’ through it, the pain and the hurt –
Soakin’ up trouble like rain in the dirt –
And I know that only I can stop the rain, with just a mention of my savior’s name.”

- DMX, “Lord Give Me a Sign”

“My God, who am I that You should forsake me? … I call, I cling, I want – and there is no one to answer. Where is my faith – even deep down right in there is nothing but emptiness and darkness – I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart and make me suffer untold agony.”
- Mother Teresa of Calcutta, circa 1948


In the closing scenes of Michael Connelly's 2006 novel Echo Park, Detective Harry Bosch has a serial killer cornered in an underground tunnel, and tries to persuade him to turn himself in. During their standoff, Bosch mentions that he and the killer both spent time in the same Los Angeles orphanage as children, two unfortunate victims of tragic circumstance.

The killer’s reply was “Well, you went your way, and I went mine. I guess I fed the wrong dog.”

Bosch didn’t remember the reference, so the killer recounted an analogy that all the caregivers told children at the orphanage. Each person has two dogs inside him or her – one that wants to do good, and the other that wants to be destructive. These dogs fight against each other every day.

Throughout every waking hour, we make decisions about which dog we’re going to feed. The dog we feed the most will eventually become stronger, overpower the weaker one, and dictate how we live our lives.

This passage came to mind after hearing two disparate stories in the news this week, which illustrate how those two dogs exist to some degree or another in every single one of us.

The first story was a disturbing report about dogfighting – but not involving the person you’re probably thinking of. Rather, it was a raid on the house of rap star DMX that got me to thinking about just how hard it can be to feed that good dog sometimes.

My interest in DMX stems entirely from a single song: "Lord Give Me a Sign", released in 2006 (and now playing on my sidebar mp3). It’s a desperate cry from a man who, despite his better judgment, frequently abandons his walk with God, struggles against sin and temptation, and realizes that his only chance at redemption is to receive strength and mercy from the Lord. It’s also a beautiful, brilliantly melodic work, which found equal favor over the past year with Southern AME choirs and hardened, incarcerated criminals.

Sadly, in the case of DMX, his struggles aren’t fictional. He has a long history of drug abuse and trouble with the law. His entire musical catalog aside from the aforementioned song is hardcore gangster rap laced with expletives, and filled with violent and misogynistic imagery. Despite his apparent spiritual yearnings, he is clearly a man who finds it incredibly difficult to keep his inner demons at bay – and who ultimately fell into some of the most reprehensible behavior imaginable.

His destructive dog grew too powerful, and overwhelmed the good one. Right now, he’s obviously far removed from the person who wrote the rap spiritual that speaks to me so powerfully, and his mistakes clearly deserve punishment (not only that, but he's been busted for animal cruelty once before - and supposedly reformed afterwards. Obviously the first punishment wasn't much of a deterrent.) And yet, for one inspired moment in time, the good dog rose above the fray and created a work that may bring people closer to God for many years to come.

The second item is that of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the subject of this week’s Time Magazine cover story due to the recent publication of Come Be My Light, a collection of written correspondence between the presumed future saint and her various superiors and confidants within the church.

The letters are noteworthy for their dramatic illustration of how, for the vast majority of her years, Mother Teresa had great doubts about the meaning of her ministry, at times to the point of questioning the very existence of God. She struggled to reconcile her public persona with the inner skeptic, at times referring to her famously gentle smile as merely a mask that hid her inner turmoil.

In other words, Mother Teresa had a destructive dog – a small corner of her soul that scoffed at her charitable works and unconditional love, and tried to undermine her compassionate spirit with doubt and skepticism. A destructive voice that could only be subdued by constantly strengthening the benevolent dog inside her.

So we have the contrasting tales of DMX and Mother Teresa. Two people from the most disparate backgrounds imaginable, whose identities in their respective societies were diametrically opposed, who both struggled with the balance of darkness and light inside of them. One stubbornly kept feeding her good dog with continual prayer, charity, and selflessness, to ease her spiritual desolation. The other chose to empower his destructive dog, effectively extinguishing a light that briefly shone like a shooting star, burning hot and bright before rapidly seceding into the darkness.

The duality exists within people at both ends of the moral spectrum. It exists for celebrities and the common man. The dog analogy is a cautionary tale about the power that everyday decisions have, for better or worse, on shaping our individual legacies.

Because everything comes down to the dog you feed.

Read Part 2 here.
Read Part 3 here.


Backofpack 8/31/07, 12:02 PM  

I don't care if this ever reaches a point - what you've written stands alone and is powerful.

I think that every day we are faced with countless decisions - little tiny ones - that force us to choose the good dog or the bad dog. Since we are undeniably human, we feed the bad dog more often than we'd like, but my hope, for myself, is to be putting the majority of the food into the good dog dish.

As always, I have to swing this to parenting. The actions we take every day help teach our children which dog to feed. Once again, it comes down to intentional parenting - planning to look for the moments - for both self and child - where the choice exists, and choosing the right dog. For ourselves, because there is no more powerful method of teaching our children than through our own actions, for our children, teaching them to analyze and moralize, and ultimately, choose the good dog.

Powerful post today - thanks.

(And on a side note: I am a fan of Harry Bosch novels, and usually am right up to date on them, but the past year has been so busy I've fallen behind. I'll have to go looking for this one.)

21stCenturyMom 8/31/07, 12:02 PM  

That was great - really great. It's so extensible. It isn't just your good/bad dogs. It's your lazy/motivated dogs. Your stick to the plan.choose to give up dogs.

I love that. I will be working with my inner dogs forever now. Thanks

stronger 8/31/07, 1:16 PM  

Very good post. I look forward to part 2.

Deene 8/31/07, 1:36 PM  

i haven't read that book but i've read somewhere else a reference to the good dog/bad dog analogy. maybe those of us who are runners/athletes would be feeding the bad dog too much if we didn't have the competitive outlet.

Spokane Al 8/31/07, 3:03 PM  

I agree with the comments of backofpack. Your post is very powerful and goes well beyond our comfortable little world of triathlon.

After listening to DMX's song, I found myself being very, very thankful that I have been lucky enough, for the most part anyway, to have feed the right dog.

Taryn 8/31/07, 5:59 PM  

Very good food for thought... and this post(s) fit in with what I'm currently reading (The Devil & Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho). It's essentially about whether people are inherently good or evil. I'm only halfway, but I definitely reccommend it.

Anne 8/31/07, 7:17 PM  

My dog ate my homework during grade school, more than once. It's still hungry, I guess, given it made me drink an extra maragarita at the race track. (But it also gave me a winning bet!)

And did you like Echo Park? I didn't think it was one of Connelly's best, though there were some good twists.

rick 8/31/07, 10:08 PM  

DMX either walked the walk or interviewed someone who did cause that's exactly how it feels like half the time.

Tri-Dummy 9/1/07, 6:35 AM  

I don't know where to begin. If you truly accept Christ as Savior, Christ lives within you. The sinful nature no longer exists; however, we still have sin and our flesh. Our flesh has become accustomed to succumbing to sin after many years of living in sin, our spirit desires not to sin. Our spirit is strong, but our flesh is very weak.

I believe DMX needs to succumb to Lordship in his life. Waking up everyday and giving each day to the Lord. It's part of a daily walk with God. Like alot of believers, DMX is living a life of duality. In essence, I believe he's riding the fence. DMX needs to truly become a disciple of Christ, which could be an entire post in itself.

Mother Teresa had a strong faith in God. Her letters indicated a woman who believed God existed and Christ was blessing lives. She struggled with the desire to know that God was with her and blessing her life. I believe Mother Teresa's flesh was longing to know that she was good enough, that she had done enough to please God. Like DMX, I think Mother Teresa succumbed to struggles with her flesh, just a different kind.

Like the Christian trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), there is another trinity at work. An evil trinity that leads to spiritual death and destruction. Satan, sin, and our flesh. The only way to have victory is to submit your life to Christ and CHOOSE to serve him every day. It takes discipline and intimate honest relationships with mentors, friends, and family members.

Great post, btw!

Mike 9/1/07, 1:41 PM  

I can definitely relate to the struggle in feeding the right dog at certain times and the disappointment when I feed the wrong one. Glad that my good dog is definitely stronger!

Great post Donald!

robtherunner 9/2/07, 10:06 AM  

Great piece of work here, Donald! I am interested to see where you are taking this, but it seems to stand alone at the moment and does so superbly. I'll have to check out that DMX song and get it onto my Ipod.

Di aka "Mrs Bigun" 9/4/07, 4:22 PM  

Donald, Thank you for a really thought provoking and moving post. I had not visited your blog until today. Momo sent me your way and I am so pleased that she did. I had also heard the "feed the dog" analogy(Probably read the Bosch novel because the entire premise sounds so familiar). I think that your post took the analogy a step farther with a non fictional comparison that helps bring it home (for those of us who have read your post). Real people and their real stories always makes a more moving point. Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts. I'll be back for more.

IronJenny 9/5/07, 6:18 PM  

Hi! I found my way here via Momo's blog, too... Incredible post. Very thought provoking.

I sure try to feed the right dog most of the time; and I know it when I'm feeding the wrong one.

Apology and prayer are two of the most free-ing and useful tools in keeping the wrong dog in its cage.

I can say that in my life, I think it's almost always easier to do the wrong thing; and almost always harder to do the right thing.

Maybe that's why bad dogs get fed so much.

Dying Water Buffalo 9/7/07, 11:31 AM  

Wow, Donald! So happy to be catching up on my blogger friends and find such a poignant, moving post. Looking forward to the next installments.

Also, have you heard the metaphor or depression being a black dog under the surface? I believe it was Teddy Roosevelt who described that.

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