What I Learned at the Dog Park

Since we brought Michelle home, she has proven to be a high octane dog who needs some running time. Being the first one up at the Livingston household, I am often chaperone her to the local dog park. I see some amazing parallels at the dog park to the good and bad of online social networks.

My dog park consists of about 250 people. Everyone says hi to each other, and we learn a little about each other’s lives.

I often smoke a cigar in a corner and blog, or work on my iPad. This used to be my writing time, and I don’t want to give that up. As a result, I tend to a bit more of an observer than a central figure at the dog park.

Once you get below the initial niceties, you see a bit of some of the same issues you do online. There are cliques. Some people gossip incessantly about others. Others judge you. And others will tell you how to live your life.

I remember once I was sitting on my bench working and a fellow came in. Michelle walked over and started playing with his dog. A third gentlemen says, “There goes Michelle” to the newcomer, who responds, “I always hate that dog.” Then he realizes I heard him, and proceeds to talk quietly, avoiding me the rest of the morning. A week later he almost ran me over in his BMW speeding into the park.

Hmmm, this reminds me of a few bloggers I know.

In another case, one of the clique queen bees noticed Soleil had a red mark on her arm. She tells Caitlin (who was the chaperone that day) it may be some horrible disease carried by dogs, and insists that she leave for the Minute Clinic that moment, lest our little girl suffer terribly. A scared Caitlin rushes to the clinic to learn the verdict: Spider bite.

The next time we are at the park, said queen bee asks me in overly concerned tones about Soleil, and the offers some really unnecessary motherly platitudes of worry, and moves on. Another dog owner saddles up to me and proceeds to tell me all the ills of the clique leader.

All of these mini incidents (and others) are the same as the ills online. Misinformation, back stabbing, gossip, nastiness, etc. Yet, I still like going to the dog park. Because there are some great people here, too. I have some fantastic conversations with some surprisingly accomplished and humble people. It’s generally a nice place to go.

This is especially when I choose to simply ignore the very human failings of this small K-9 social network. In some cases, I know what to expect from folks so I limit my interactions with them, just like I do with similar types online.

The lesson is that people are people.

The wrongs of online communities are no different than the less visible ones of the real world. Wherever you go there you are, and the roles are often the same, regardless of physical or virtual context.

Perhaps the one difference is a perception of permanence online thanks to the everlasting digital record of things said and done. But even these can be learned from, allowing for personal growth.

In the end, online tribulations are good. We see ourselves. We realize who we are good and bad, and how we contribute to the positive and negative. And we can choose to participate in either, and possibly develop stronger relationships from it.

Like it or not, this is who we are.

What do you think?

Featured image by Natasha Ruzyinski.