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Walter Jacobson, M.D.

Walter Jacobson, M.D.

Posted December 12, 2009

Published in Lifestyle

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Accidents, Tiger Woods, and the Choices We Make

Read More: actions, choices, happiness, magical thinking, negative consequences, responsibility, Tiger Woods, well-being

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Last week my dog, Gracie, was kicked by a horse and broke her leg. Although I could choose to perceive it as an accident that could not have been avoided, the truth is that it wasn't an accident. It was the result of an error in judgment on my part.

Prior to this event, Gracie has had interactions with the horse in question. She has run into the corral and gotten in the horse's face, barking at it and taunting it.

Prior to this event, when she had done this, I shouted at her to not do so, and she backed off without incident.

Wanting her to enjoy her freedom in the corral and assuming that she was smart enough and fast enough to avoid any aggression from the horse, I did not initiate any further behavioral conditioning that would perpetually keep her at a safe distance from the horse. I obviously should have.

Why didn't I?

I presumed her getting stomped on by the horse was not going to happen. It might happen to other dogs, but it wasn't going to happen to mine. This was clearly magical thinking and highly inappropriate, insofar as it is my responsibility to keep her out of harm's way.

Interestingly enough, this brought home a lesson I learned long ago and have applied effectively in the past but chose to ignore on this occasion, to my detriment:

If there is any possibility that a negative outcome might result from your actions or inactions, regardless of how remote and unlikely that outcome might be, and if it is a negative outcome with severe consequences that you would not by any means enjoy dealing with, then don't go down that road.

In my case, I should have taken the time to train Gracie a whole lot better than I had, to the point where there would have been no way that she would ever invade the horse's space and get kicked. I was sloppy. I was arrogant. I was presumptuous. I was not thinking clearly.

And now I am filled with regret and remorse having caused my little dog friend a great deal of pain and discomfort. I also caused myself a great deal of inconvenience, because now I am devoting a substantial amount of my time, money, and energy to her care in order for her to  heal quickly and effectively without physical disability.

In the blink of an eye, our lives can change. Something unforeseen can occur which disrupts or terminates our life or the life of a loved one, and we are powerless to stop it.

That being said, we are not powerless over events we could have foreseen but chose not to or events we did foresee that could have been avoided with appropriate actions on our part.

The truth is, when we look at a lot of "accidents" that occur in our lives, many of them were foreseeable and avoidable had we been paying closer attention.

For example, most car accidents aren't really accidents. They are predictable results of people speeding and tailgating such that in one moment of distraction, the laws of physics can't be avoided, cars collide, and injuries and property damage occur.

Many workplace accidents aren't really accidents. They are the result of people unhappy with their jobs or their lives to the point of distraction, such that they place themselves in a vulnerable, precarious position that favors an untoward event happening to them.

Many careers and reputations going into the toilet aren't the result of accidents or bad luck. Tiger Woods is the most current example.

One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist in this day and age to know that if you are a public figure having sexual escapades outside of your marriage, it is extremely likely that eventually you will be exposed and humiliated, and that for some period of time at least, there are likely to be negative financial consequences.

Did it occur to Tiger Woods that he might get discovered and that he might lose his marriage and/or endorsement sponsors? I suspect he indulged in magical thinking like I did with my dog Gracie: It won't happen to me.

Point being:  No matter how special we are, magical thinking will not save us. And expecting animals or human beings to behave in predictable ways that will allow us to continue our self-indulgent behaviors is just plain foolhardy.

So here's what it boils down to:

Look before you leap. Keep in mind that if anything can go wrong it very well will go wrong, in which case it's much wiser to take the high road instead where safety, well-being and happiness are as assured as they can be in this wacky world.

The high road may not be as entertaining or as exciting, but if it keeps you out of trouble and on your best life path, it is well worth it.


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2 Comments | Leave a comment

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I couldn't agree more. Arrogance, it's so deceptive. You think you're not going to be exposed, but you will, eventually.

I sure hope Gracie makes a quick recovery. Unlike people, I'm sure she harbors no blame toward you. It's unconditional love. Where else can you get that?

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Thanks for your comment. Gracie is healing well. I count the days till she can run and play again... I was reading an article by the dog whisperer about dogs not holding grudges and unconditional love. There is much we could learn from our four legged friends if we weren't so busy trying to control the universe and chose instead to let go of our ego and our arrogance.

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