The theme of this year’s conference is “Ripples and Bubbles” and since some people in here are probably relatively new to FDSA, I’d like to take a moment to talk about what that means. And for those who know all about ripples, I’d like to talk about ways to expand our circle of people who might be interested in some of our ideas.
At FDSA, we often talk about ripples.
Ripples are about your ability to create change, a tiny bit at a time. So how might one go about doing that?
The basic idea of “ripple theory” is that each positive action or decision you make has the potential to influence other’s actions or decisions. And when those little spheres of influence go out into the world, they can become a very significant force, just one tiny ripple at a time. Significant change often start with the tiniest of things — just a ripple.
For example, when you go somewhere and you model excellence in training or emotional connection with your dog, others will see that. When you do what is right for your dog even when it hurts you personally, like pulling out of a show when it becomes obvious that your dog is miserable – others see that too. And kindness to people matters just as much! When you take an extra minute to help someone, anyone else who chooses to watch that interaction also recognizes your kindness.
As the example I just used demonstrates, when we talk about ripples we are often talking about modeling change. Showing others how you train your dog and interact with people, in an effort to influence their behavior. But I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about how you can expand your ability to ripple – to influence others – simply by considering how you choose to make other people feel, in addition to the ripples created by the behaviors which you model.
In a nutshell, if you can positively affect a person’s happy emotions, then that also gives you the possibility of influencing that person’s beliefs. And if that is true, then every single person in this room possesses the capacity for positive change at a very fundamental level.
Let’s start with negative influences over people’s emotions in order to fully understand positive influence.
There are two basic types of emotions – the ones we like to feel and the ones we don’t like to feel. The ones we like we work to feel more often and the ones we don’t we work to avoid.
One way that you have influence over people is to manipulate a person’s unpleasant emotions – fear. Fear covers a lot of territory. Emotional security, the need to belong, physical well being, etc. For example, if I am your employer, I can cause you to feel the emotion of fear by threatening your paycheck. But I don’t need to be your employer to threaten your emotions and make you feel fear. If you are highly judgmental person and you express that to others, then you can create the fear of not fitting in, or the fear of looking stupid or embarrassed, or the fear of being shunned in another person. That is a very strong form of power over another’s emotions – it may not be very nice, but it is real. And because people find the experiencing those negative emotions punishing, we work to avoid having those negative emotions tapped.
So right off the bat, it is important to recognize that when you are unkind to people, you have influence over their behavior but influence based in fear and negative emotions will not change another person’s belief structure. So that means if you choose to be unkind then you will probably kill your chance of creating a ripple that influences another person’s beliefs.
And since this talk is about creating ripples that can change people’s beliefs, let’s focus on the second source of influence that we have. This source of influence is based in bringing out another person’s positive emotions (joy – feelings of belonging, security, physical well being, etc).
This positive source of influence is accessible to everyone because we can all give feelings of joy and a sense of belonging to others. It’s also free! Let’s look at a simple example of two people interacting and how our choices can aid or block our ability to ripple.
Example: You go to your dog training group and you smile at someone who is dealing with an out of control puppy. They are doing everything wrong! Did they smile back? Feeling like you’re not alone and that another person is supporting you emotionally is a big deal! You just exerted influence over that person because you caused them to feel positive emotions; to feel better about their bad situation.
Now let’s change that around. You go to your dog training group and you frown at someone who is dealing with an out of control puppy. They are doing everything wrong and that annoys you, so you want them to know that you do not approve of their choices because you think they are being stupid. Did your frown make them feel embarrassed? Did they look away? Or did they give you a pissed off ‘get out of my face’ expression in return? Regardless, You also exerted influence – you caused that person to feel negative emotions; to feel even more alone and incompetent and possibly angry.
Now after five minutes you look over and see that the person is still struggling with their puppy. You approach to offer advice.
Which person’s advice do you think they will be more likely to listen to, the one who was attempting to support their positive emotions or the one who was expressing disapproval and manipulating their negative emotions? In which instance do you have a chance to ripple?
The fact is, most people do not internalize advice from judgmental people. They may smile politely or change their behavior while you watch, but that is not a ripple. The question is, what do they do when you walk away? On the other hand, people are much more willing to listen and consider information from kind people who seem to be genuinely interested in improving their situation as a sympathetic participant. THAT is a possible ripple!
Now continuing on with the puppy example. In both cases you have exerted influence over that person’s emotions; once with a sympathetic smile and the second time with a glare. Now let’s say that 30 seconds after that interaction, you collapsed on the floor.
Do you think that person will be more or less likely to help you, based on the source of emotional power you chose? Now that the tables have been turned and they have power over you? The fact is, you tend to get what you give. If you choose to make people feel good- then when they are in power they will often make choices to allow others to feel good. And when you choose to make people feel bad, that tends to go down the line as well -and others will also use that negative form of emotional power. So being kind to others when you influence them has much broader implications.
So how might we best approach people when we want to retain the possibility of creating ripples?
1. People want to spend time around those who make us feel good and empowered – you cannot change someone’s beliefs if they are not around you. Always work towards creating positive emotions in people. So, first off, to create the possibility of philosophical change people, treat people well! We’ve already discussed that.
2. Second, people want to have choice about what they learn, how they learn it and how much time they are subjected to other new ideas. I remember when I read the book “Control Unleashed” by Leslie McDevitt, it made me very uncomfortable, I had to take breaks from the information to digest and to really think about what I was thinking and feeling as I read it. But I had full choice – to pick up the book when I was ready or to put it down and just think about things. So allow people to walk away at the first sign that they need a break from you – or just change the conversation to something more neutral.
3. Third, and equally important – listen. You have to listen to what people are saying and try to understand their root concerns, or they will send up a wall so fast or just start watching you – and then it’s over. If you aren’t listening then you aren’t adding any value to the conversation.
For example, if a person is extremely goal oriented and wants to get into competition, and I want to talk about developing a warm relationship with their dog — we aren’t having the same conversation. I’m not listening to them. So when talking to THAT person, I would be wise to help them solve their competition interests if I can. And from there, maybe we can work our way towards my interests over time, when the time is right.
So if you want to create ripples, be kind, let people choose to listen to you or not, and listen to them. This will create an engaged person.
So what happens if you choose a negative or judgmental path — you are not kind, you don’t let people choose and you do not listen?
You will create a “disengaged” person. You will shut them down. Disengaged people are working to protect their emotions when interacting with you. They are tense and guarded and they do not trust you because you are not trustworthy!
And disengaged people who do not trust you?
You may change their behavior in your presence but you will not change their underlying philosophy. You cannot ripple.
In contrast, we have engaged people.
Engaged people are receptive. They are trusting, because you have demonstrated that you are trustworthy. Here’s the important thing to remember about engaged people who trust you:
You may not change their behavior in your presence, but you may start to change their underlying philosophy and beliefs because they are open to influence. You have started the process; that is a ripple.
By being kind, warm and genuine, you will make people want to be around you, because it makes them feel good! When you listen to another person, it makes them trust you. They want to talk to you. When you acknowledge their right to have a different opinion, it allows them to relax and honestly, it changes you too! It helps you to recognize that other people who do not share your opinions are not stupid, or thoughtless or mean spirited. They’ve simply had different life experiences that took them in a different direction than you.
So now – by modeling kind behavior AND by considering how other people feel, you have created the potential for more and more little ripples, and you may well be creating changes in their thinking as well as well as their behavior.
But…..it won’t always work.
Ripples – is the time right?
Now you’ve got an audience and an engaged, receptive person in front of you who is interested in talking to you. Now what?
In the process of listening to the other person, you may realize that you are simply too far apart in philosophy to have a reasonable conversation. That’s ok. You’ve retained a friendship and left the lines of communication open. Agree to disagree and move to a new conversation.
Or, maybe you’re not too far apart! Maybe a real conversation can begin! You see a possibility to influence each other. Good luck!
Now I have to stop for a moment and I’ll repeat something that I just said:
YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO INFLUENCE EACH OTHER
In a positive interaction, you share power equally. Maybe they will change their opinions and beliefs. Or maybe they will change yours. Which is fine because if you came to your beliefs after a careful examination of your ethics and your behavior, then it’s fine. It’s a life well examined!
But it’s frightening, especially if you are not well grounded in your beliefs, so you may prefer to avoid genuine, respectful conversation out of fear – your own fear that you may be the one who gets influenced. But how else will you learn and become stronger and understand all sides of an issue if you don’t develop a thorough understanding of other points of view?
Up till now I’ve talked about the process of interacting with people, and I’ve certainly implied that these may be people who feel differently than you do on any particular topic. So now it’s time to talk about you, and your emotional safety. And that brings us to the second part of the talk, which is the the idea of a ‘bubble.’
WHAT’S A BUBBLE?
Within the bubbles of this year’s t-shirt, you will see a few of the phrases that we often say to both dogs and people to keep us positive, even when we’re struggling a little. These bubbles represent safety and a place to go when you need to recharge.
The fact is, simply being kind in the world doesn’t necessarily mean that others will be kind back. Yes, it helps, but no….if you’re in a minority position, then you will find that the power of the group is often much more powerful than whatever you might be able to exert as a single individual. If your opinions, beliefs, or even just your appearance is too different from those around you, then you will find that remaining positive yourself can be incredibly difficult to do, in particular if those around you are are not being kind.
So what do you do? The answer is having your own bubble. Your bubble is where you go to recharge. It is your safe space where all of the energy around you is warm and positive and supportive. It might be your family. It might be an internet chat group like FDSA Alumni. It might be a training group with like minded people. It might even be sitting alone with your dogs, simply admiring how much you love them and how rich your relationship is with them.
It is your choice to come out of your bubble. It is also your choice how much time you choose to spend inside your bubble.
I believe that everyone needs a bubble. I know that people see me as being very out there in the world making change but the truth is, I’m really not. I don’t try to convert anyone – I preach to the choir and I have for a long time. If someone wants to hear what I have to say, then I’m happy to put it out there in the form of blogs, FB or personal conversations, but I do not go looking for people to talk to – I allow them to find me. I am keeping myself safe while I offer information. I try to be kind, warm and approachable so that I can talk with an open person who is receptive and who can trust me. In my mind, I am a catalyst for change – I put out ideas. Little ripples. And those who are curious will come closer but it is very much their choice. Maybe they will be pulled in by some of those ripples and in turn, help those ripples to grow and spread.
But the whole time, I am ready to step back into my bubble if I feel that others are becoming unkind towards me – pulling at my negative emotions, forcing their opinions on me, or refusing to hear what I have to say in a respectful fashion.
With time, ripples produce little waves. And if the time is right, those waves will grow and eventually the waves become significant enough that they force sweeping change and take everything along with it. But ripples cannot happen if you’re getting pulled under by others. So keep your bubble intact, and spend lots of time in it!
I hope this conference and the other participants exert a positive influence over you. I hope that being treated kindly opens your heart and softens you to new possibilities and ways of thinking and feeling. I hope that you, in turn, feel how your own power to influence others has grown and that you take advantage of that power by giving positive feelings to those around you – supporting them when they struggle, keeping them company when they appear isolated, and listening carefully when they express concern, worry or fear. I hope that every person in here goes home feeling excited and uplifted about how much power they have to build others up and make them feel good.
At this conference, I want you to focus on how you can grow your personal power this weekend by being kind to yourself and to those around you. I want you to think about how this conference can enrich your personal bubble and make you strong. I want you to think about how others are influencing you with their kindness and warmth, and how that makes you feel – giving the power of your emotions over to people who treat you gently.
And I can’t really wrap up the introduction to a dog conference without at least mentioning dogs. So here it is.
If you listened carefully, you can now insert the word dog anywhere that I said person, and you will find that it is exactly the same. If you want to influence your dog’s behavior, work tirelessly to have them see you as an advocate, so that they want to be around you, and so that they naturally look to you because your presence and interaction and smiles and warmth and cookies and play all combine to make them feel good. Avoid bringing out negative emotions in your dogs.
Ok – that’s it! What I wanted to talk about. Now we’re going to move on to the start of our day. Welcome!