Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Selfless Gene


Selflessness is not an inherited trait. I have used our foster puppy to conduct exhaustive research into the genetic roots of selfless behavior and my conclusion is as follows:
there is none.

From the moment Zach awakens til the moment he lies his soft little head (momentarily) to sleep at night, he is one small contained package of selfishness.

Here is a montage of his comments, translated through the assistance a highly complex machine called the Caninlinguistic Decoder.
(Note, statistics are correct to within the acceptable margin of error of 1- 400 standard deviations).

6:30 am- "Hey! Where is everyone! It is time to start my day! I have needs! I have rights! I thought this was the land of freedom! What am I do doing in a cage, then ? Helloooooooooo?"

6:45 am - "OK, so I peed on the wet grass for you, for whatever stupid reason you must have. Could you not see the carpet inside was dry and needed watering, dumbkoff? I think the theory of human intelligence is a bunch of hooey. But now, where is breakfast? Get my breakfast!!! Now now now now!!!!! I am a growing dog with places to go and chair legs to turn into sawdust."

7:00 am- "PLAY!!!! Lucky, wanna play? wanna wanna wanna? Honeybun, wanna play? wanna wanna wanna? NO? Well too bad for you cause I do! PLAYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!"

(This cycle of comments repeats throughout the day with minor variations)

A most telling example of the missing selfless gene was when we handed Zach a bone to chew on instead of our ankles. He lit into the bone, gnawing delightedly. The saving grace of a pup is that they are highly distracted so you can change their focus of attention in a nanosecond.
Honeybun watched this transaction with grace, but some sadness. She loves her bone, and she did not wish to disturb Zach. So we handed her a different bone, and she settled happily to gnaw on that. (PS- these are giant bones- femurs of rhinoceros I believe- so no danger of little chips perforating little intestines.)

As soon as Zach saw Honeybun gnawing a bone, he left his bone, and dashed over to grab it out of her mouth. I watched in awe as Honeybun, without a whimper, let him drag it from her. Then she looked mournfully at me as Zach chewed on her bone. So I took the bone Zach had deserted and gave it to Honeybun. Instantly, as Zach saw her chewing it, he pounced on it and wrenched it from Honeybun and then settled his paws across both bones.

I concluded my research study at this point since the data was overwhelmingly conclusive. If you want selfless behavior from dogs....or people... it must be modeled; it must be taught. There is no selfless gene. I imagine at some point, Zach is in a for a lesson on selflessness, but for now, my dogs are treating him as an honored guest.

As Asherel and I were driving to do the grocery shopping, I stopped to let a car from a side alley in to the line in front of me. Traffic was awful and the young mother, with a baby in a carseat, was in for a long wait otherwise.
The mother waved, shocked that she was really being told to cut in, and gave me a thumbs up.
"Now Asherel," I said, "I guarantee that within an hour, that lady will let a car in just like we just did. Acts like that have a way of paying forward."
Asherel acknowledged my statement with the time honored, respectful rolling of her eyes.
But within a minute of my utterance, the lady waved a car from a parking lot into the line of packed cars in front of her.
I smiled at my daughter.

I don't know why God created us without selfless genes, but it is clear that even without the genetic disposition to love others as we love ourselves, it is possible to compensate and learn.
And we have the supreme model, a quiet man guilty of nothing, who hung on a cross in agony on our behalf.

Hebrews 12: 2-3
2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

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