33. Do me a favour? Don’t do me a favour!

Every now and then a couple of friends of Benny’s would take a drive out to a farmers’ market, with one of their favourites being held on the first Sunday of each month, about an hour away, and they would rope in whoever was willing to join the adventure and make a day of it. Benny was glad to tag along now and then, and usually came home with some produce or some other bargain. And it was there, while walking by the open window of a ute with the sound of corny music streaming out of it, that Benny’s remembrance sprang back to thoughts of his childhood dog Milo. He didn’t know the song, but the lyrics he could make out in the time it took to walk alongside the car were ‘…let me be the kind of person my dog thinks I am…’.

The happy thought that flowed from those words was of the goofy dog that dagged around with him as a kid. Benny’s mental picture of Milo was one of him typically panting and grinning at the same time, and now, to this older Benny, those song lyrics added something more to the memory of his old buddy — always up for anything, any time, and whatever they did could never be anything but the best decision yet.

“It’s like old Milo only really had one way to focus on the world, which was that there were only good things going on around him, because anything that we used to do was A-OK by him. He was like that. When I was younger I probably didn’t think about this too much, but I’m sure I couldn’t have done a thing wrong as far as he was concerned — or I suppose that’s what I’d like to think. Maybe we all like to imagine that our dumb mutts think we’re the best; I suppose that’s what the song’s all about.”

Benny knew this line of thinking started with a memory of a dog, but still, to think that it is possible to be blind to anything negative was a new, or perhaps a re-visited, concept for him — and he tried to picture what humans would be like with that frame of mind. But it wasn’t long before he dropped the effort, as Benny thought it would probably be obvious to anyone, himself included, that people had a more judgemental attitude to those around them, and did not generally take up the open candour of the artless Milo.

I wanted to make sure that Benny followed the quality of his inklings… and that the default alternative that this human’s assumptions would be left with did not simply coalesce on the other end of the scale, and become a blindness to all positives. But it was clear that he was aware of all this, that it is all too easy to see the things that can be criticised in anyone, and too often criticism of others is used to shore up a person’s own feelings of being better. There’s even that deluded sense of ‘doing a favour’ for someone by pointing out where they are wrong, or how what they’ve been doing is a mistake. It was clear his scale hadn’t tipped that far, as I say, because of where today’s musical prompt took his mental meanderings.

Benny thought that really there was room to take some clue from Milo the dog. Fault finding or keeping an eye out for someone’s vulnerable points can be a painful mission, and he had the feeling somehow that with that sort of focus you couldn’t ignore that there wasn’t some two-way traffic involved — like a thief being suspicious and worrying his things will be stolen, because that’s the way he thinks himself. And no, we don’t have to stand there panting and grinning … but I hoped Benny would also think about the balancing benefit if he could, in a level-headed way and to quote another very old song, ‘accentuate the positive’. Good boy.

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Chapter index and link to slogans