Since I began riding this summer, horse behavior has so far taught me 2 things about higher life forms, including humans.

1. When one has performance stress, he can try to anticipate what is required and jump the gun, so to speak. He quits listening to what is being asked, and tries to predict on his own what he believes will be asked, and preempt the command. He must be afraid of a negative outcome if he just stays in the moment and waits for cues. It is a sort of panic, flight reaction. And it keeps true communication from happening. He is afraid of what the other has to say. And it works both ways between horse and rider. If you’re expecting a negative behavior from a horse, you may be likely to get it. But one should be prepared for those negative behaviors, just not act like you’re stressed about it.

2. Then there are the negative reactions to actual negative stimuli, or at least intense stimuli. Let’s say a loud noise makes makes a horse nervous, like a backfire. His first inclination may be to stoically act like nothing happened in order to please the rider. But it introduced a negative energy into his calm composure. He rationalizes that it’s not a big deal, but he can’t let it go. Or it wont let go of him. The natural reaction to a sudden loud noise is to jump and run away. He’s been given conflicting signals. One, stand still, two run away. So he does both. He stays still till he feels an opportunity, then a few seconds later, takes an unasked for bounding canter step or two.

I imagine this is what it is like with people too. Something negative and jarring happens, like unexpected angry words, then a stoic response, then a misplaced reaction. A person can try to rationalize that it doesn’t matter, and that he doesn’t believe it to be harmful, or that flight or fight is useless, detrimental, or wrong, but the negative energy is there. It will suddenly and intensely come back out later, either back towards the instigator or towards someone else.

I’m wondering if it is indeed impossible to keep a negative stimulus from causing a negative, equally energetic reaction. We totally expect a baby to cry if it is hungry. It would be weird and unnatural if he didn’t. But adults are taught to postpone gratification and not ask for satisfaction immediately. But if we stifle our cries over a stubbed toe, for instance, isn’t it with the expectation that satisfaction, though delayed, will come later? We look forward to telling our friend about it, then we can let it go. Interesting how talking about it can replace the equal physical reaction, like getting a steel toed boot on and kicking the offending chair till it shows some damage. We can take out our frustration in other indirect ways.

Religious people are taught to forgive and not strike back. To turn the other cheek. To love offending enemies. To return good for evil. This defies physics. And doesn’t it spoil the offender? What about justice? If one can place the offender in God’s hands for vengeance, what does she do with the pain she feels? Talking about it can be a form of vengeance, since it can hurt the offending person’s reputation. Confession to one’s priest can even turn into revenge, but it must be the solution anyway. As is talking to a trusted adviser, like one’s spouse. That person must have clear sight as well and not become co-dependent neither with the offender nor offended. If one is seeking to be painfully self-aware, she will not be tolerant of her own revealed tendencies towards revenge. She will seek to deal with her pain in a Christian way. Forgiveness is perhaps discerning the most respectful course of action with the other person. If one is wounded, then sometimes they can’t help but seek to escape the cause of further pain. They may not be able to stifle their tears or crying out. Strong, healed, far-sighted people will not panic at the blows, but like Stephen, will barely feel them. Their smile is not forced; it is natural.

But if a person is too crippled to say, “Go ahead, do your worst”? I don’t think they should feel guilty. They may wish they were stronger. And I don’t think they should be made to feel responsible for their weakness. There are many reasons for weakness, and I don’t think personally responsible sin is the only cause. Such as when Jesus was asked, ‘whose sin caused this man to be born blind?’ He said it was for the power of God to be revealed in him, and didn’t blame anyone. Who knows how and when God’s power is revealed in someone? I don’t think there’s a uniform answer. Some people learn to bear their infirmities, some are healed from them. Lord have mercy.

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