If I don’t know, tell me.

A little painful lesson today to remind me of my humility.

On my jogging route I run into a little cul-de-sac just to extend my course. It has open plan grass lawns belonging to ’sheltered accommodation’ type council bungalows. As I loop round I run along the edge of the lawns in order to have a softer running surface and thus save my back. This particular lunchtime one of the occupants of the bungalows was washing his car. He was a burly middle aged man who had a large Rottweiler standing beside him. As he saw me approach he put his hand on the dog’s collar as if to prevent it from charging; this did not fill me with confidence and I ran much further into the lawn to give the dog a wide birth. The dog behaved itself but as I came around to complete the loop the man said something to me which I did not readily catch so I slowed down and asked him to repeat what he had said.

He said, “Don’t run on my lawn when you come round again.”

He wasn’t aggressive with this instruction but it was clearly an instruction, no room for any debate. I hesitated a moment as I tried to figure out what my position was and what reason he would have to object. In the end I replied matter-of-factly that yes, okay, I would do that.

As I jogged back home I thoroughly examined the exchange and its results. The fact that he had given me an instruction immediately aroused defensive emotions – resentment, humiliation etc. My emotions were in direct proportion to his level of forcefulness – had he asked nicely in a friendly was, I would have responded in kind and been more compliant; had he shouted aggressively I would have prepared for some kind of fight and resisted any concession. As it was, he probably restrained himself from being more aggressive because he must have seen me on other occasions running on his lawn and been building up a little reservoir of resentment, so from his point of view he was being more than reasonable.

In terms of justification I had to concede I was at fault. Even though the lawns were open plan and unfenced, it did not mean I had the right to run along their edge. I thought about my lawn and how I would feel if he came jogging with his dog and ran across it. The lawn indicates the boundary edge of your territory, it is only human nature to want to defend it.

So I felt humbled as I made my way home; I had been wrong to run on the lawn in the first place and so should not feel any resentment about being told off for it, but I did. ‘Human nature’ makes us react in this way and only critical thinking can overcome it to a very limited extent. I suppose simply being aware of it is an accomplishment in itself.

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