Dog Shit and how Disgust Makes the World Go 'Round

Dog Shit and how Disgust Makes the World Go 'Round

By John Capaul

I pick up my dogs' shit. Hank (a white shepherd) and Gabby (a black Belgian shepherd) are amazing companions, but they shit. You feed them. They lick your face. They shed. They shit. These are natural and expected events.

When I pick up my dogs' shit, I'm acknowledging that I have no right to impose my dogs' shit on the rest of the community. No one should have to manage getting unexpected dog shit off their shoes. There's an added benefit of knowing my dogs' health. Absent a vet, there's no better way to know your dogs' health than from their shit. Its color; its shape; its smell. Are they stressed? Is the new dog food a good or bad idea? Whether I should have tried those free, new treats from the pet store.

I mock people who don't pick up their dogs' shit. I make a particular point of mocking people that have/had children, and still don't pick up their dogs' shit. If you've ever changed a baby's diaper, you know how unexpected baby shit can be. When I first became a dad, I rhetorically asked, "What's the big deal?" Then the results of that first protein meal arrived, and I not-so-rhetorically asked "Damn, what died?!" Once you've lived that experience for a while, dog shit is, well, shit. Between kids' shit and dogs' shit, the kids' stuff is far worse. Someone's unwillingness to pick up their dogs' shit is both negligent and selfish.

Perhaps you're someone who distinguishes sympathy from empathy, and as such, have been disabused of the notion that sympathy is a proper, useful response. While sympathy and empathy had been interchangeable, sympathy now connotes that you care about and are sorry for someone else's trouble, grief, misfortune, circumstances, but you don't necessarily share their emotional state. You understand why your friend is sad, but don't get sad because your friend is sad.  

I can see how someone who hears a friend's support but knows a friend doesn't experience the suffering could seem to be superior to or above the situation, thus sound condescending (or patronizing, which is another grammatical distinction, depending on whether there is or isn't an actual status or power difference between the people. Your boss patronizes (verb) you; you sound condescending (adjective) to your boss and co-workers). Feeling pity or sorry for someone doesn't solve the problem because a judgment of whether someone deserves support comes into play.

I've read articles and viewed videos that profess the need for greater empathy. The argument posits that if we all could understand the experiences and/or vicariously feel the emotions that other people, we would be in a better position to manage ourselves in the world. When we walk in someone else's shoes, we'll express less judgment, assign less blame and condemnation and actually care about the world. You can see, hear and experience that you share emotional states with other people.

I've also read articles and viewed videos acknowledging that there is a huge blind spot with empathy. Taking on another person's emotional state limits our perspective, constrains the possibilities and inhibits collective action. Empathy can prolong suffering. If someone is stuck in flight, fight or freeze, you might be too. Compassion is understanding, feeling and taking action toward solving the problem. We've suffered. We're moved by other's suffering. We're motivated to alleviate suffering. As an ethical and self-serving way of being, it makes sense to alleviate suffering. Paul Bloom discusses rational compassion in his new bookAgainst Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.


I might experience guilt and embarrassment, but for real suffering I look to shame. Shaming begins externally. Your private defect is publicly proclaimed. If you've grown up in a shame-driven environment, there's little that can alleviate the pain of humiliation, condemnation, dismissal and alienation. Anyone that's heard "You should be ashamed" understands this power. What starts as an external seed quickly embeds itself as a seedling in the soil of self-loathing, tended and watered, it grows into a mighty tree with a canopy of self-blame and self-contempt, yielding the fruits and seeds of self-hatred, which replenish the soil that fuels the tree. Eventually, you may even gather other people's seeds of shame and plant them next to your own tree. Other people begin to see the top of your tree and its fruit and seeds land in their yard as all manner of visible, destructive behavior and disorders.

I suspect many people have a visceral reaction to dog shit, baby shit, and any kind of shit. And pee. That milk carton in the refrigerator. A backed-up toilet, dishwasher or garbage disposal. A restaurant grease trap. Woof, that smell. That is disgust. The revulsion. This was a useful, evolutionary survival mechanism to make sure the cave dweller didn't eat something that will kill the tribe. Don't eat it, don't smell it, don't even look at it. This isn't fear, anger or sadness, it's disgust.

The autonomic response has been replaced with moral disgust. Humankind will continue to destroy itself because it continues to assign that visceral, physical reaction to other human beings. Shame is self-hate. Disgust is hate of others. When the preacher that uses selected passages from a book of parables written over thousands of years to condemn your sexual preferences or sexual identity, they aren't afraid, angry or sad, they're disgusted. "It's contagious — it might get on me!" When the politician justifies gerrymandered voting districts, poll taxes and disenfranchisement, they're disgusted that people that look and smell different get equal treatment. When your in-law tells a racist joke or work colleague boasts about assaulting someone the night before, they're disgusted that they're not special and entitled. We could generate examples all day. Behind every expressed fear or hatred is disgust. Disgust is the action activator.

Get past your cave-brain. Without empathy or shame. Compassionately. Please. Pick up your dog shit.  


John Capaul has worked as a marketing and project management professional for many years, garnering a wide spectrum of business experience with some unusually deep subject matter expertise. Currently, he has the title of Director of Special Projects at Fusion92 (an independent, Chicago-based ad agency), which means he manages the firm's largest client, and literally anything else that is sensitive, complex or needs to be expedited. John loves small stage theater, going so far as to create Chicago Theater Meetup in December 2015, which collected nearly 600 members in seven months, and hosts hundreds of performances each year.

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