The Philosophy of a Dog

Watching my dog during the course of a day and we begin to understand what motivates him. Dogs aren’t pretending. They aren’t acting. There’s no mask or false facade.

Michael is a Boston terrier. He reminds me a lot about myself, as different as we are. I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that I raised him like this or if he developed his little idiosyncratic traits on his own. He can be stubborn, needy, but he is also full of wisdom. 

I often look at my dog and wonder if he is living a happy life. Sometimes he looks at me with those sad puppy eyes.

What’s a good life for a dog? And if Michael could teach me something about living, what would he teach me? 

Patience

Perhaps he wants to teach me to be patient. How complicated is it for a human to have a conversation with another human? It takes years before we could go beyond crying and screaming to get what we need. To think that we have to communicate with an animal… How do we do it, except to be patient? We are learning a language of our own. A language that involves words and bodies. It’s more a conversation of emotions than it is of context. A dog doesn’t know I’m late for an appointment or that I have a very important presentation coming up. All he knows is that I’m stressed. 

How do I get this dog to eat his dog food? Is it the food he doesn’t like? Is he not hungry? Or does it simply want it in another vessel? Like speaking, we begin to form messages through patterns. The word “Treat” has somehow resonated with Michael. The same way I perk up whenever I hear someone talking about burgers. He’s good with “sit” too. “Come” is a little harder to understand. But be patient, Michael would tell me and don’t get frustrated when we start speaking in different languages. 

michael the boston terrier

Legacy

Michael doesn’t worry about his legacy. I try not to either. But I catch myself often wondering: What great works and ideas will I pass onto the next generation? I feel that thinking of the future in this way motivates me. But perhaps it causes me more stress than necessary. Why should I feel as though the future should be my responsibility? Why can’t I simply be this little bit of wonder that blinked briefly in time only greatly affecting those people closest to me? Can’t my legacy simply be like Michael’s to make those lives closest to his better? 

There is a certain expectation for humans to contribute. As we’re now standing on the shoulder of giants of the past, we’re expected to lift up the next generation. However, it would be just as fine for me to make my primary goal to be good to those directly in my orbit as opposed to thinking of how I can greatly impact the whole universe.  

Routines

When I was a kid, I dreamed of a life where every day would be unique. Every day full of new adventures. Such a life would never get boring. But that’s not a real life… that’s a storybook life, where all the dull bits are edited out. It is our routines that make up our lives — and so does a dog’s. All Michael wants is to have a routine that he enjoys and repeat it consistently for the rest of his life. 

If you want to teach a dog tricks, you need to repeat it. You need to make learning a part of his routine. And so routines are the same for us. Yes, the dog may choose comfort but we can choose another objective for our routines. The key is that we must stick to it. What we choose for our routine is what makes up our lives. 

Comfort

What’s most interesting about Michael is how he takes up space. He always seems to find the most comfortable spot, it’s an amazing skill. As pleasure seeking animals, it’s easy to understand the appeal of comfort. There is this epicurean concept of necessary desire and unnecessary desire. Michael best represents what it means to be happy by chasing the right desires. My dog focuses on treats he likes and comfy spots to sleep in, but he doesn’t get caught up with the desires that curse humans. 

He doesn’t get caught in the need to rise in social class or make more money to impress friends. There is no status he wants aside from reaching a certain level of comfortable. If nothing is causing him physical pain, he’s as happy as a nugget. 

Michael doesn’t consider some invisible objective, he lives in the physical realm, where all that matters is whether he wants to be on pillows or stretch out on the entire bed. I try to be like him and live parts of my day in the present world — I think the best way to accomplish this is to take a nap. That’s how you fully indulge in it. To simply take up space in the physical world. 

When you find it hard to be understood, when you are thinking too far into the future, and when you are getting too worried about something you want and don’t need — think of Michael and remember that while you are freaking out. He’s taking a nap. 

Maybe you can use a nap as well. 

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Wealth care

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Your financial well-being is as important as your physical well-being

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. January 6, 2016

You may be spending money on gym memberships, organic health food, and high-performance active wear, but, while on pace to a healthier life, you are also wasting a lot of money on items that you probably don’t need. Running is good, but running out of money is scary. Two out of three people are constantly worried about money.

While buying healthy food is an investment in your prospective health, investment in your financial future is of equal importance. You cannot always anticipate what will happen in your life and what role finance will play in the sudden shift in lifestyle. A loss of employment, an illness, or an act of God may eat away at your savings or push you into debt.

Careless spending—like poor eating habits—comes back and bites you later on in life. We are constantly warned about why we should not consume crappy food. But when it comes to how people spend their money altogether, people tend to keep comments to themselves. In this society, we aren’t really allowed to criticize other people’s spending habits. If someone wants to buy video games instead of paying rent, you can’t stop them. They’ll get evicted, but it’s still their choice. There is no visible danger zone when it comes to money in this country, because at the end of the day Canada is built so that no human being will starve. When people receive money they are free to use it however they like.

Nevertheless, if you are smart, you would treat your money the way you would treat your own body. You care for it, you utilize it when you need to, and you get it to work for you. And, over time, you strengthen it so that it can take care of itself. The same way you exercise, you must do the same with your funds.

You get physical checkups from your doctor and you heed their warnings, and you must do the same with financial advisors. You don’t need to take all of their advice, just like how you don’t need to take all of your doctor’s advice, but a different perspective, perhaps encumbering, may be refreshing.

It’s time we start putting our money where it counts. We might need to change how we see our money. It’s not the key to fulfillment, but a necessity for survival. This way, as life progresses, we’ll have enough to spend on the stuff we need and plenty left over for the stuff we want.

Do it for yourself

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Not volunteering does not make you a selfish monster

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. October 16, 2015

You used to do it. You used to commit your valuable time helping an event, an organization, or a cause. I know I did. I don’t anymore. I don’t volunteer, not because I’m busy, but because I recall that most organizations that don’t pay for labour are often disorganized, not so flexible, and ultimately lacking professionalism.

I have had bad experiences volunteering, and I believe many people have as well. But we dismiss all the bullshit because we want the goodwill, we want the work experience, and we want to participate and make a difference.

I’m not going to say that volunteering is a waste of time, because in the end, it’s up to you to define what your time is worth, and for you to decide how you would like to spend it. If you have a group of friends volunteering, you might love it—it’ll just be like hanging out. However, if you feel frustrated over the work or lack of communication, or that perhaps there is a high expectation for your role, be on alert.

There is a reason why unpaid internships are illegal now—it’s slavery. While as a volunteer you are there of your own free will, the organizers often make it seem as though they are doing you a favour. If you feel like you’ve been mistreated—whether by the leaders or your fellow volunteers—you can leave. There are literally a billion different ways to make a positive impact in the world, and many will even pay you to do it.

We live in a capitalistic society. If you are working for free, that means other people are working for free, and that is not fair for anybody. The least they can do is offer lunch or an honorarium. If an organization does not have a revenue stream, investors, donors, patrons, etc. why does it still exist?

Moreover, if we look at the world as a whole, we see many young adventure-seekers volunteering to build houses and orphanages in developing countries. Okay… cool… but those people don’t need some 20-something-year-old from Cloverdale to help them build shit. Give them material, and they can do it themselves. If you want to have an adventure, get a job, earn the money, and buy a plane ticket without interfering with other people’s lives. If you want to help build an orphanage in Cambodia, donate money and resources. Start a company that will hire local workers to do the job. Create a self-sufficient ecosystem, not one that nourishes your own self-righteousness.

Volunteering is not sustainable. Eventually you’ll have to eat. If organizations want help, they should apply for grants, have some marketing system, and have some incentive—it doesn’t have to be monetary, but it does have to be worthwhile. Volunteering is not for everybody, so before you think of someone else, think of yourself. You deserve your own precious time.