Wednesday, April 29, 2015

This is why we fight.

I rode to work this morning with a friend, and we spent some time discussing a local conflict between area residents and dog owners accessing an off-leash park in the neighborhood. Apparently, tensions have been rising for a while, and the situation escalated when Animal Control and San Diego Police Department officers showed up and began strictly enforcing the posted rules.

I share this specific tale because it is a fantastic microcosmic example of so much that is wrong in this world right now. Let me explain, and keep in mind that I am speaking in generalities. Of course, there are always exceptions, but I am focused on the majority of folks in a given situation.

So, back to the Great Dog Park War of 2015.

In a nutshell, here is the background:

  • The dog park is zoned "off-leash," meaning dogs can be set free to run around.
  • Surprisingly, the dog park is not fully fenced, which means dogs can run beyond the off-leash area.
  • Depending on where people park, there is a significant distance to travel from the car to the area designated off-leash.
  • There are homes immediately adjacent to the dog park.

And the players. First, the home owners:

  • The "We Hate Them All' folks, who want the dog park closed, report every violation they observe, and actively seek to find conflict.
  • The "We Can Work Together" folks, who are generally okay with the dog park but are frustrated by dog owners who cause problems.

And the dog owners:
  1. The "Freedom For Dogs At All Costs!" folks, who refuse to follow the posted rules, allow their dogs to run free as soon as they leave the car, and don't care that (or clean up after) their dogs are damaging yards, plants, etc, in the neighborhood.
  2. The "We Can Work Together" folks, who obey the posted rules, watch over their dogs, and respect the neighbor and other dog owners at the park.
The majority of people are the "We Can Work Together" folks, and they are generally respectful of each other. The dog owners do their best to make sure their pets stay within the designated area, and the homeowners understand that even the best behaved dog might stray from time to time and make their way to a neighboring yard.

These people work things out when there is an issue.
"Sorry, my dog was chasing a bird and ran into your yard." 
"No problem, thanks for getting her back under control so quickly."

"Excuse me, would you please leash your dog until you get over to the off-leash area? My little girl plays in the yard here and she is not comfortable with unknown dogs running up to her."
"No problem. He gets excited when he sees little ones and thinks they all want to play. I'll make sure he is leashed when we get out of the car here."

It doesn't have to be a problem with these folks. They can talk to each other, explain their position, and work together to find a solution.

But there are exceptions. There are local residents who are determined to have their way and get rid of the dog park. They go out of their way to find something to criticize, even when owners are minding their animals and trying to keep them in the off-leash area.

And there are dog owners who are equally determined to behave any way they want. They let their dogs run free even outside of the designated areas and don't care that their animals are damaging yards or a threat to other animals and children around the park area.

Which brings me to the whole point of this blog post. In the Great Dog Park War of 1915, people are choosing sides. They are either with the home owners or they are with the dog owners. And that is the mistake they are making.

If we really want to resolve the problem, people need to choose different sides completely. They should align themselves as "those willing to work with the opposition" and "those unwilling to work with the opposition."

If the people trying to work with others all banded together, they would have so much power and influence that they could completely shut down the other people. They could focus their efforts on getting the extremists to comply, which eventually would lead to a better situation for all parties involved. Law enforcement could ticket dog owners who deliberately let their dogs run free outside the off-leash area but NOT ticket owners who are actively chasing down an unleashed dog who unexpectedly ran out of the designated area. And the city could tell the home owners demanding the park be shut down that it is there to stay, while listening to and addressing valid concerns of local residents.

In other words, both sides could respect those trying to work together, correct the problems caused by the extremists, and go about their business with everyone happy.

And that's the big point of this blog post, because this exact scenario is playing out all across the country in one hot-button issue after another.

In Baltimore, law-abiding citizens and law enforcement officers aren't working together. Instead, they are listening to the extremists amongst them, acting as if every protestor is a criminal and every officer is corrupt. That approach leaves no common ground and creates an adversarial situation where people are either with you or against you and there is no shared solution.

Children are dying from preventable gun accidents in their homes. Gun owners and children's activists should be working together to develop training and safeguards to keep kids safe. Instead, they are listening to the extremists amongst them, demanding unrestricted gun ownership and the banning of guns respectively. Those two extremes leave no room for solutions that might actually help to prevent the death of another child.

Welfare. Abortion. Crime. Poverty. Choose the topic. It's all the same. Extremists on either side of an issue are driving the debate, disrupting any effort to find common ground and work towards a solution. This is why we fight.

And it's killing us. It's destroying our communities, our cities, and our nation.

My challenge to each of us is to ask yourself, "is what I am doing helping this situation or is it making it worse?"

Only you can answer for yourself. But only when enough of us work together against the true enemy will we begin to solve the challenges we face.

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