It was late November, about a week before the Thanksgiving holiday, when Oliver, my 10 month old St. Bernard and I went hiking up Mt. Lafayette in New Hampshire. It took us a few hours to get to the Ridgeline, when the wind started picking up and it began snowing heavily.
“Time to go!” I shouted to Oliver, who was standing about 100 feet away. It was getting hard to see in all this blowing snow, and I wanted to head home quickly before it got too bad.
Oliver wouldn’t budge.
“C’mon, let’s go!” I shouted again, but he still just stood there. Now I became angry. I trudged my way over to him, ready to grab his collar and give him a tug, when I saw something that instantly changed my anger into humility.
Oliver was standing in front of the trail marker. He was waiting for me to come to him, because he knew the way down the mountain.
I made my way back to where I originally stood. I discovered that what I thought was the trail was really the top of a steep ravine that I could have easily fallen down. I was confused by the snow, but Oliver was not. I apologized to him profusely, and we made our way safely down the mountain, thanks to Oliver.
That brief rupture in our relationship lead to a deeper and more profound connection between us. My arrogance turned to respect, and Oliver seemed to feel that. We repaired our fracture with gold, and it was more beautiful as a result. This is the art of Kintsugi.
Kuntsugi is the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. The unique patterns created adds a dimension of uniqueness and individual beauty that is better than the original. It is the perfect metaphor when we are in conflict with our dogs.
Friendships are never always smooth sailing. There will be conflict from time to time, but if we see that friction as an opportunity to grow, it becomes traction to move the relationship forward.
Many of my clients over the years have been concerned with being the “perfect” friend to their dog. They become stressed when they feel they’ve made mistakes, and often lament that they’ve ruined the relationship. I reassure them that they have nothing to worry about, that it’s the repair that matters, not the rupture. I help them by explaining the simple art of Kintsugi:
Step 1: Collect the broken pieces.
Rather than obsessing about what caused the fracture, focus on the problem itself. This is not a time for blame, its a time to collect your thoughts and objectively see the problem. For myself and Oliver, I didn’t trust him and I wanted to be in control.
Step 2: See how the pieces fit together.
Here is where we use our empathy and understanding skills. We need to see the problem from our dog’s perspective. Oliver knew the correct way down the mountain, and he knew I wanted to leave. He wasn’t being stubborn – he was being caring.
Step 3: Clean off each piece.
This is where forgiveness becomes crucial. If we don’t forgive, it leaves a residue that will interfere with the broken pieces fitting back together. I definitely forgave Oliver for not coming to me, and I think he forgave me for being so arrogant and commanding.
Step 4: Prepare the gold.
This is where we change our mindset from wanting to be “right”, to seeing the bigger picture and the value of the friendship. When I remembered what was really important – and put my friendship with Oliver first – it became easy to move forward. It become the glue that held us together.
Step 5: Connect the pieces and join with gold.
The act of reconciliation and repair strengthens our friendship, and adds to its resilience. Forgiveness is not about forgetting, it’s about remembering that we came through a difficult time and are stronger and more connected as a result.
Whether we disagree on what is acceptable to chew on, feel stressed out and accidentally lose our temper, or don’t see eye to eye about barking at the neighbors, the inevitable conflict between us and our dogs is bound happen. We need to look at that as an opportunity to grow and learn. We don’t want to hide the scars the fracture may have left – we want to display our scars proudly. When we repair them with gold, often the repair is better, stronger and more beautiful than the original.