Fredrick Töben: Battle of the Wills - in dogs

We always had dogs on the farm - I grew up with dogs, and I learned a lot from their behaviour towards other dogs that didn't seem to me to be much different to human behaviour. Towards humans dogs give unconditional love and affection. I saw a particular shearer terribly abusing his dog - smashing a shearing handpiece over its back - but the dog always came back to him. The shearer was blaming the dog for some sheep not towing the line - but bystanders realized that it was the shearer's fault who simply scapegoated matters on to his faithful dog, just getting rid of his frustrations and blaming the one that loved him the most. I have seen such behaviour in humans, and it is one of the timeless literary themes that each new generation needs to explore in order to gain empathetic understanding, and to be able to answer the question for themselves - what is life all about?

Literature taught me a lot about what makes humans tick, what makes individuals do what they do. I did not have to develop grand Freudian theories that sexualises our every act, something that is absurd. It was Konrad Lorenz who also claimed that such Freudian emphasis is unbalanced, and this can best be noted when little pups play for hours romping about, never tiring. Were one to explain this in the context of a Freudian sexual theory, then this never-ending romping about is merely a precursor to sex in the young. Not so says Lorenz - if this were sexual, then the romping would end pretty quickly and not last for hours until exhaustion stops them playing about.

In the above photo I am trying to be a peace broker between two parties: the white dog on the right, Bobby, was the senior on the farm while on the left, Rogue, was a bigger but younger fellow who came to the farm from New Zealand. Tracey, in the middle, was a young fellow who had to fit in-between both of these strong individuals. When Rogue arrived on the farm he tried to fit in but Bobby would not accept him, and challenged Rogue whenever he could by attacking him by the throat. Rogue easily grabbed Bobby and held him down, then did not continue with the attack  but merely wished Bobby to leave him alone and accept the fact that both Rogue and Bobby were here to stay on the farm.

Whenever Rogue had Bobby on the ground, Tracey would soon join in and nip at Bobby's tail. Whenever they were not fighting, Tracey was nice to both Bobby and Rogue. Tracey knew who was the stronger of the two. I have watched such behaviour in many a school staffrooms where the fence sitter, the Traceys, would take sides when it was clear who was the stronger - thus not acting on a principle or an ideal but rather on pure opportunism.

In the above photograph both Rogue and Bobby are quite tense at this moment while Tracey is listening to the call to look at the camera. Bobby just didn't like being near Rogue, and vice versa, with me in the middle firmly holding them and asking them to be nice for the camera for just a few seconds.

Any human activity has such in-fighting as its hallmark - the old Battle of the Wills - where stubborn individuals simply will not give or compromise for the sake of achieving a larger goal through cooperation. Anyone who is engaged in any human enterprise must be aware of this factor playing a role in whatever one does. Such awareness comforts when relationships fracture, and the need to scapegoat does not arise because the battle-of-the-wills is a normal human form of behaviour. One only hopes that reason and understanding then kicks in so that serious confrontations can be amicably solved. It does not help if one side refuses to talk with the the other side. Bobby refused to accommodate Rogue, while Rogue never attacked Bobby first, but then always valiantly defended himself against Bobby's aggressive behaviour.

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