The following seems fitting after the post Letting Things Take as Much Time as They Need to Take. Think of it as real-world proof that everything takes time. But even more important is what happens after that time has been taken. On Relationships & Shoveling Poop addresses that end—taking your time is worth it. Caro’s relationship with her horse (after time and effort) has become what the best of friendships are. And we can all hope to have a bit of that. Bravo, Caro.
On Relationships & Shoveling Poop
Originally posted on johnnyandcaro.com July 14, 2015
In college I once took a class called “Attraction and Relationships.” It was, embarrassingly enough, the worst grade I ever received.
(That probably makes everything I’m about to say suspect…)
The class essentially dissected how human beings establish and cultivate relationships—all kinds, whether familial, platonic, or romantic—and it was illuminating, mostly because it applied to literally every prosaic, nondescript interaction we have on a daily basis. One overarching lesson was that a relationship with someone is strengthened on both sides when one party suffers some sort of inconvenience for the sake of the other. Easiest example: your friend doesn’t feel well, so you take time out of your day to bring them chicken soup. Obviously the sick friend appreciates you taking the time to express concern and care for them, but studies also show that the act of taking time out of your day to do something for your friend strengthens your emotional connection to that friend too. So what? Well, the crazy thing is that this effect is compounded the farther out of your way you have to go. So if your friend lives next door, you’ll both feel slightly more positively toward each other after you deliver the soup, but if your friend lives two hours away, the positive feelings between you are more intense, reinforcing your friendship to a greater degree than just a next-door visit.
These old college lessons came to mind while watching Wild Horse Redemption, which documents a Colorado prison program wherein prisoners, many of whom have never touched a horse before, have 90 days to prepare BLM mustangs for adoption.
Watching these men transform not only these wild creatures but also themselves is truly a thing to behold. It’s also painful at times, to see man and horse struggle to communicate, each frustrated and discouraged in moments of failure.
One man, Clay, had a particularly hard start. Inexperienced with horses and genuinely afraid, he seems ready to give up with each successive failure. But he keeps at it, even as others privately doubt his future as a program participant. After session after session of only limited progress, Clay finally gets to pet his horse for the first time. He got to be the first human to ever make contact with this wild animal. That’s seriously one of the coolest things I can imagine and must have been such a rush. But that moment was only possible after days and weeks of discouragement.
What I’m trying to say is that sometimes the best things a person can experience can only take place after a certain degree of “suffering.” Making small sacrifices for the people you care about, investing your time and energy in work that can at times seem thankless—it doesn’t seem like this would make a person happy, but study after study shows that’s not true. As others wiser than I have said, in one way or another:
Completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake. Raising a child makes us happier than beating a video game. Starting a small business with friends and struggling to make money makes us happier than buying a new computer. The funny thing is that all three of the activities above are exceedingly unpleasant and require setting high expectations and potentially failing to always meet them. Yet, they are some of the most meaningful moments and activities of our lives. They involve pain, struggle, even anger and despair, yet once we’ve done them we look back and get misty-eyed about them. – Mark Manson
All too often, in weighing the benefits of a course of action, we look for low cost-to-benefit ratios—putting in less but getting big returns. This makes sense—investing minimal effort with great payoff is totally appealing. But this attitude confuses the ephemeral pleasure of instant gratification with more lasting kinds of happiness—avoiding the discomfort of expending effort in favor of having what you want (or what you think you want) without waiting.
Lately that Manson article has been on the brain each time I go out on Johnny. People keep coming up to me (friends and strangers alike) to tell me how awesome it must be to have a horse. How it must be so cool to have this giant creature I can gallivant around on. And you know what? It is.
But it’s also hard. Like any living creature, Johnny isn’t an accessory. The pictures and videos I post of us may seem like it’s all fun and games, but the truth is I (just like anyone else) only post the good stuff. What I don’t post are pictures of me shoveling his poop out of his stall, status updates about him bucking me off or trying to kick me in the face, or videos of me failing to get him to do what I ask. And these things happen more often than not—seriously, Johnny poops a lot—despite what my Instagram feed would have you think.
So what am I saying? That having a horse isn’t always about galloping around with the wind in your hair? That most of the time it’s sweaty and stinky and not at all cool or even fun? That my Instagram and this very blog are a lie? Well, that all may be true, but no, that’s not what I’m saying. Maybe, in the aggregate, the posts and pictures and updates are skewed, but to me it’s not really about objective fact. The most meaningful bonds we forge with people or animals aren’t built on going to cool parties together or running through fields. That’s easy. Closeness is built on the stuff that’s hard. It’s trucking chicken soup two hours for a friend you can’t even kick it with. It’s shoveling poop after working a 12-hour day at the office.
But that doesn’t mean I want to post pictures of it.
It’s also not the end of the story. On weekends I still wake up like a kid on Christmas, stomach knotted with excitement, even though I know my day will be filled with more poop-shoveling than gallivanting. When I think about Johnny and the time I spend with him, the hard parts are invisible. And the sacrifice isn’t one-sided. When I ask Johnny to do anything, whether it’s trotting in circles around me or letting me sit on his back, he’s doing something for me even though if left to his own devices he’d rather not. We both, in our own ways, do things for each other, and even though we can’t literally speak to each other, the message is clear: I am doing this for you because I like you, and because in some weird way you matter to me.
And that’s why picture after smiling picture, in some ways, is realer than reality.