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Nonjudgmental --- Not Hardly!

Posted by vwkoch, in horse handling thoughts 30 July 2012 · 375 views

People often say that animals make good companions because they are nonjudgmental. For example, the English novelist George Eliot said “Animals are such agreeable friends. They ask no questions and pass no criticisms.” Personally, I think anyone who considers animals to be nonjudgmental does not know animals very well.

People tend to be pretty blind when it comes to body language, and body language is the primary language of most animals. Animals cannot verbally express their criticisms, so many people are blind to those criticisms. However, just because you don’t notice them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Animals are just as judgmental as people are --- whether some people know it or not.

Some examples are obvious. The dog that refuses to come to the family member who beats it, but comes willingly to the family member who feeds it, is clearly expressing its judgment of both people --- one is bad, and the other is good. Similarly, the horse that refuses to allow itself to be caught is expressing a judgment --- either “I don’t like you” or “I don’t like you when you’re coming to catch me.” Certainly, these behaviors are learned behaviors based on experience, but those experiences cause the animal to develop a negative opinion about a person, which it expresses by its behavior, and isn’t “being judgmental” defined by expressing a negative opinion about someone?

Sometimes, animals might be believed to be nonjudgmental because they’re not ALLOWED to express their opinions. For example, my current pet horse doesn’t like to be groomed. When I groom her, she snaps at me. She has no intention whatsoever of actually connecting, so I let her express her opinion whenever she wants. Many people would punish their horse for such behavior, and the behavior would probably stop. The horse would still not like being groomed, but it wouldn’t be allowed to express its opinion of the process.

If my horse were a child, she’d be saying “I hate you, Mommy” whenever I groomed her. Most people would consider that statement to be pretty judgmental, but because my horse can’t say it out loud, many people miss the communication altogether, so they don’t realize she’s being judgmental. If she quit snapping because I punished her, she would still be judgmental, because she’d still hate what I was doing, but there’d be no way to tell how she felt.

Being groomed is good for her, so I have no intention of stopping. The annoyance it causes her is actually pretty minor, and I don’t believe it affects our relationship. Certainly, there are things she does that annoy me, but I don’t love her any less because she sometimes annoys me. No relationship is perfect, and true love (or even friendship) includes putting up with some things that annoy you. However, when you express your annoyance, you’re being judgmental, and animals are said to be nonjudgmental. I think they clearly ARE judgmental if you just understand them well enough to be able to know what they’re “saying.”

Sometimes, it’s good that people DON’T know what animals are saying, though. Animals have proven to be useful in helping children who have trouble developing relationships with other people, for example. It is believed that these kids can relate to animals because animals are “nonjudgmental.” Whether or not the animals are REALLY nonjudgmental doesn’t matter in such cases. As long as the kid BELIEVES the animal is nonjudgmental, a relationship can develop and perhaps set the stage for future relationships with people. It is not the reality but the perception that matters, and if the perception is helpful to the child, who am I to burst that bubble?

The one thing that is probably true about animals is that they give unconditional love. I say “probably” because we can never say for sure that animals love, but some of them certainly show all the signs of loving their owners. When they show such signs, they tend to show them even if the owner isn’t perfect, and unconditional love means that you love someone in spite of bad behaviors that might cause others to end the relationship.

Parents tend to love their children unconditionally. They might have endless fights with them, but they usually never stop loving them, no matter how bad it gets. As I noted previously, true love (or even friendship) includes putting up with some things that annoy you. If you continue loving in spite of EVERYTHING that you hate about someone, you are giving unconditional love, and if animals do love, they tend to do it unconditionally.

So, don’t be fooled by all the people who say animals are nonjudgmental. Your animal judges you just as much as any human does --- it just can’t express its opinions in words. However, even though it might be judging you, it can still provide you with unconditional love, and that kind of relationship is priceless. If your animal loves you, love it back, and show that love by being as kind as you can be.

If you try to live up to being worthy of receiving unconditional love, you will be a better person. As a well-known quote goes: “My goal in life is to be as good of a person as my dog already thinks I am.” As for me, I’m trying to live up to being worthy of my horse. She would say that I am failing, but she loves me anyway. In the end, her love is what really matters to me. I love her, too.

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