IMG_1065Rex still blesses my life.

As I wrote about Rex’s sudden death, I was moved by the outpouring of encouraging and supportive comments. Many thanks to all you wonderful people.

We buried Rex in the back yard. Our tradition frowns on cremation, and personally I think that includes the animals we know and love. So perhaps there is something respectful about his final resting place.


How Dogs Came to Be

Dogs have a great love for us. It is wired into them. The ancestors of dogs were the wolves lowest in cortisol. They were the least wild of that wild race, and while the traditional view is that we domesticated them, an equally likely scenario is that they domesticated us. When the Russian foxes were bred for tameness, they developed more color in their coats and started to bark. Within a few generations, they were, for all practical purposes, dog-like, hanging around the back door of the ranch managers and coming when called.

Perhaps wolves earned their keep by warning of intruders, and the early humans began to think they might be quite useful. Plus, they are excellent pack hunters, so they might improve a human hunter’s success. They convinced us they were useful.

Dogs / wolves have tremendous loyalty for the pack. I mentioned how Rex would position himself between strangers and Amy. “You shall not pass” said Galdalf, and Rex echoed that. Our hearts are warmed. He was not a brave dog. He was never aggressive, never threatening, yet when Amy might be in danger, he stood his ground. How can your heart not be touched?


Givers and Takers

So this week I picked up Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take. He is the youngest-tenured professor and highest rated teacher at the Wharton School of Business. He is an organizational psychologist.

Some of his research is about our mindsets in our careers. He has identified three mindsets: Giver, Matcher, and Taker. The Giver is the Rex model. He wants to leave the world a better place. He is interested in helping and encouraging. He expects no reward.

(Here is a nice Google Talk by Grant. If your browser won’t allow click-through, here is the video you can watch.)

Matcher is somewhat like our cat, who has a name but answers to “Kitty.” He allows us to feed him and in return he will purr when we pet him. Well, perhaps he is a taker. In any case, the Matcher is the sort who burns out when giving, because she isn’t getting anything back. Her mindset is reciprocity.

The taker will masquerade as a giver so as to take even more. He is basically the robber baron. “Nobility” in every society starts as takers, thieves and robbers who accumulate wealth and power. Leaders in government, business, even in non-profits, can often be takers, looking for self-aggrandizement and praise. (True of people across the spectrum, by the way. Not just right / left.)


What Works?

So which works best?

In a study of medical students, those with the lowest grades were . . . givers.

So who had the highest grades?


You see, the givers have the lowest grades at the end of the first and even the second years. But thence and throughout their internships and residencies the givers have the highest grades, the best ratings. It turns out that givers have a short-term disadvantage, but a long term advantage. As one progresses through medical school, individual achievement fades into the background, and teamwork and cooperation become foremost.

Cynics say “In the long run, we are all dead.”

That is true enough.

But how one dies, now that is the question. Did your life mean something?

So Rex’s life meant something because he loved. What will mine mean? Yours?

Adam Grant disguises it, but his real message is “love others as you would be loved.” His index doesn’t include the topic, but it is there.

Why else would you give unselfishly to those who cannot pay you back?

Love is a skill. How much you practice that skill is up to you. While we should not run faster than we have strength, while we certainly should have boundaries, at the same time, our boundaries are likely to be too much based on fear.

Any athlete can tell you that the body says it is done long before it really is exhausted.  There is more reserve there than you suspect. We quit too soon. Likely, if you embrace a giver mindset, you will struggle with fear. It tells you “you better be careful, you better not give too much. Love might disappoint.” Fear tells us to pull away. Don’t listen.

Embrace the love.