Two Dogs in a Fight

James Neill, March 20, 2003

Two dogs are in a fight; afterwards they will feel sore and sorry for themselves, though the victor may gloat for some time and may even offer to help the other; The help of course will be on the victor's terms -- the winning dog will eat the best bit, the losing dog can have the scraps.  The other dogs are watching and talking to each other.  Some may share their food with the loser; others will congratulate the victor and ask to share some of its spoils.  All dogs will be wary.

After a day of hearing about war, I am semi-exhausted, flabbergasted, abhorred, puzzled, curious, angry, compassionate, excited, with my head spinning with ideas for whys and ways for experiential educators to take the next step....

War confuses; but it also clarifies:

Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife!

  To all the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
  Is worth an age without a name.
- Sir Walter Scott, from the early 19th century battlefield

The poem was also found inscribed in the front of each of the many diaries of a late 20th century Australian war journalist who was accidentally shot in action -- he lived amongst the bullets, and had been shot before; he took his chances, because in that environment he could understand and write about the viscerality, the life blood of existence.

"One crowded hour of glorious life" is what Kurt Hahn aimed to create with Outward Bound; he packed all his ideas from schooling and the Duke of Edinburgh's award into a small package; it worked and spread and mutated like a virus; then he set actively to work in the rest of life to creating international schools where youth could live and learn together -- Hahn realized that you have to live, eat and breathe with the so-called enemy if you want common humanity.

War has so much appeal; to the extent that you are directly involved in war, it wrenches you away from ordinariness and asks the big questions -- the motivation felt by a community garnered toward a common purpose creates remarkable experiences, whether on the battlefield or protesting in the streets;

William James recognized the psychological need for war (and who can question it looking at history?).  He predicted that wars would long continue because the urge was so innate.

James was also a psychologist, and he proposed that such an urge can be met in other ways.  Thus, he said leaders needed to develop other organized schemes of human activity which would satisfy the human need for battle -- since then, sport and recreation have been among the best replacements we've found, plus vicarious encounter by playing out battle in the psyche is another method - e.g., via books, movies, TV, video games, etc.

This particular dog fight is pretty bloody.  Both dogs have multiple heads, big weapons, out-of-control egos, and disturbing past records of violence.  So it is hard to know who or what to barrack for -- most are simply praying for a quick end with minimal loss.

These dogs are what we might call "youth-at-risk".  They are countries with poor past records of violence and aggression and as a result neither are liked much by most of the nations in the world.  Their risky behavior disturbs the whole pack of dogs and has made them all very wary.  When a pack of dogs start fighting, they lose focus on the bigger picture.

Eventually these dogs will decide to give the fight a rest for a while.  Then it will be a chance for educators to offer the dogs some opportunities for learning how to get along and treat other people.  Where there is a will, there is a way.