Category Archives for "School"

2 When Facts Aren’t Facts … the absurdity of modern testing

         Handsome, my human friend, is sleeping at last.  For a few months, he was barely able to.  And even when he would fall asleep, he’d either be on top of his computer keyboard or holding his laptop in his arms.  He was just frantic.

         All this was about a test he had to take.  He wants to expand his professional license to other states than just our home.  That’s all fine.  And he had to relearn a bunch of stuff from school to do so.  That’s also fine.

         So why was he such a wreck?  Not because the test demanded a ton of knowledge.  No, it was because of how it asked for it.

         Shirelle is:

  1. A dog
  2. The Author of AskShirelle
  3. Handsome’s Best Friend
  4. A chair

This test doesn’t ask for straight-out knowledge.  Rather, it’s supposed to test how he thinks, to see if he’s qualified.  But for all Handsome’s flaws, thinking is something he’s always done well.  In fact, so well that he has a lot of problems with these tests!

they ask him to pick the Best of them, or to offer four bad answers, and have him pick the least-bad of them.

But does that make sense at all?

Everything Everywhere All at Once is about:

  1. The difficulty of running a laundry
  2. A lady getting in a bunch of fights
  3. A bunch of Chinese Americans
  4. Insanity

You see, I’m just a dog, I know, and I don’t have the brains you guys do.  But from what I’ve learned, there are facts and there are opinions.  And other than those two, there are only wrong things.

Are cats mammals?  That’s a fact.  Are cats annoying?  That’s my opinion.  Are cats likely to hunt birds?  That’s a fact.  Are cats likely to be hunted by dogs?  Depends on the dog!  But we’re still in the “fact” realm.  Are cats worth hunting?  That’s an opinion too.  But are cats reptiles?  No, that’s just untrue.

Suggesting that there’s anything else but facts, untruths, and opinions, gets into a realm that… well, causes lots of trouble!

Julius Caesar lived:

  1. In Rome
  2. In the first century B.C.
  3. In a Toga
  4. On a yacht in the Carribean

And when the people giving the test say their goal is to see how well you think, what they’re really testing is if you think just as they do; or rather, if you can read their minds and figure out how they’re thinking.

The best place for a dog to lie down is:

  1. In the doorway, where I can chase down a squirrel if it comes into my yard but I can also run to beg if Handsome starts to eat in the kitchen.
  2. On the couch, because it’s so comfortable.
  3. Anywhere other than the couch, because Handsome gets mad at me if I lie there.
  4. On top of a moving car’s hood.

So which is best, of the above answers?  The doorway is best for chasing and eating, the couch is the most comfortable, the “anywhere else” is good for keeping Handsome happy, and the car hood – well, it might be kind of exciting, but I think we can agree that it’s the worst of the choices.

But how is one expected to know what “best” means?  Again, it seems they’re asking you to assume something that they’re assuming.  To take this to its fullest degree…

4x + 38 =

  1. 42
  2. 59,327
  3. 24
  4. 38

Now sometimes the questions don’t ask for mind-reading.  Instead, very often, they test whether you catch their tricks or not.  A skill which shows that you are qualified to… take tests.  And nothing else.

For example:

Taylor Swift is:

  1. A 32-year-old singer
  2. The writer of the hit songs “Love Story,” “Blank Space,” and “Déjà Vu”
  3. The performer on the world-famous Eros tour
  4. A male photographer in Seattle

Did you get that one right?  Maybe not.  The world-famous singer is currently 33; the Olivia Rodrigo song “Déjà Vu” does credit her as a co-writer but only because it samples one of her songs; and her tour is called Eras, not Eros (though of course you had no idea if I might have made a typographical error).  But yes there IS a man, a photographer, living in Seattle, named Taylor Swift.  You can look it up.  D is the correct answer!

But unless you’re taking a test on Seattle photographers, this trick question ONLY serves to mess with you!

Now not every question on these tests is as awful as what I’ve shared here.  And Handsome actually thinks he might have passed, though he won’t know for a while (but they won’t tell him why it takes so long to grade a multiple-choice test he took on a computer!).

But while he sits there trembling in his crazy mood, I’ve been thinking about the whole mindset behind these tests.  What’s the point of them?  Do they help anything?  Or do they make things way worse. 

A few years ago, a spokesperson for the US President famously excused his lies by saying that they were “Alternative Facts.”  And while many people laughed at this, millions of others accepted it.  And I just wonder if that’s because they had been trained by this mindset!  Once someone accepts that there are “better” correct answers, or “less bad” wrong ones, then actual truth becomes meaningless. 

History has shown that people have often made up their own facts, but they were really spreading lies so well that everyone accepted them as facts (See the speeches of Nazi Germany about the dangers of Jews, for example).  But to me, this is a different version of the same problem.  At a time when you humans are achieving so much in science and technology, I see you also slipping into dumb and disproven mindsets of racism, sexism, and authoritarianism.  All because so many of you can’t agree on what truth is.

So I side with Handsome.  I’d love to see these tests go very far away.  And once that happens, to paraphrase Taylor Swift (the songwriter, not the photographer!), people should Never Ever Ever get back together with them!

Tests that expect the taker to read the mind of the writer of the test are:

  1. Stupid
  2. Invalid
  3. Useless
  4. Pickled Giraffe

What to do when relationship problems get in the way of your work

Jigs24 asks: I am really stressed out, and have been for quite long time. There are so many problems going on between me and my partner and because of this I am unable to concentrate on my studies. All this is going on since more than a year. What should I do?

Hi Jigs24 –

I can’t help with any of the particular problems, as I don’t know what they are.  But I’m going to assume you’re saying you want to stay with them, but just improve things so you can be a better student.

The biggest question I’d have for you then is: Does your partner also want to improve things?!  And by that I mean, are they willing to work at it? 

It’s funny, I’ve been watching couples my whole life, and one simple rule I’ve found is that the couples that succeed, that last and make each other happy, are the ones where both partners want to make it work more than they want anything else

So in other words, when they have an argument, what’s more important?  To win the argument or to stay together?  When one meets someone really attractive whom they’d love to pursue, what’s more important?  That desire or staying together?

(And on the dark side of this, when someone’s being abused by their partner, what’s more important?  Their personal safety or staying together?)

If you and your partner both truly want this thing to work, then my suggestion is to go into couples counseling.  Even if you’re not married, it doesn’t matter – find someone you can talk with who’ll help you two work out the issues that are hurting you.

But if you find that your partner doesn’t feel that way, doesn’t think it’s worth the work to make you both happy and fulfilled…   Maybe it’s time for you to reconsider the relationship.  No matter how many wonderful qualities that person has, they’ve been making you upset and messing with your schoolwork for a year. That doesn’t sound like a relationship destined to make either of you happy in the long run.

Whatever you do, I wish you the best of luck!


What’s the best way to deal with false rumors at school?

Arty asks:

A few weeks ago at lunch one of my friends at school told me that someone who I thought was my friend made a story about me on FaceTime (Maybe she was jealous but she also might have just been bored or feeling mean. I’m not sure.). It was about me having sex with someone else who is now out of our school, and us having a child and giving the child away. When I heard the story I went to someone who’s always supervising us during lunch. She’s someone I guess I trust, and we’ve known each other for however long I’ve been at this school, and my friends and I love her and always talk to her. So I told her everything. And this lady I trust called the girl who made the story about me and told her she was very disappointed in her because the same thing had happened to her last year. Then lunch ended and my teacher called everyone who was involved. She talked to us and the lady I trust also talked to us. I was silent the whole time and was on the verge of tears (I had wanted the lunch supervisor to talk about it to the person who made the story, but not to bring my teacher into it and get people in trouble and stuff like that cause I feel people would call me a tattle tale.), but tried not to show it. When they were done talking, I asked if I could use the restroom. I felt vindicated but also horribly embarrassed.  When I reached the restroom, I started crying. Then one of my used-to-be best friends but now sorta-friends walked in, gave me a hug, and we both cried a little bit. Then we went back to class. I’m sorta over this, and no one talks about it anymore, but whenever I think about it I feel like I still wanna cry. I don’t know what to do anymore and who to trust or who I can trust. My parents don’t know about this and after a few days no one at school talked about it anymore – which always happens whenever something major occurs. Now I feel like I’m wearing a mask and everyone thinks I’m ok. It’s just so hard not to have anyone to talk to (Sometimes when I say stuff, my schoolmates sorta just laugh at me. I feel like I just can’t get personal with them. And I don’t want to dump my problems on them because I’m sure that they have problems of their own.). And right now I myself feel like I’m being dramatic and selfish.

Then… a whole different story happened! Almost all of my classmates were added to a new group chat a few days ago (including me). And they started talking about a kid in my class. I’m going to name him r. Ok. So they were just talking about r liking every girl in the classroom and wanting to date me! And then they sent a picture of r with like a huge grin on his face and below it wrote r when he sees (I’m going to put j for my name) j. And I’m just like ‘ooook then’… I didn’t really have anything to say so I kept quiet. But with my friends (in a different group chat) were talking about it and stuff. Then r texted in the group chat ‘I like j’ and I was just completely shocked but told myself it was probably a dare or he’s just seeking attention and stuff like that. Then one of my other friends who was not in the group chat with my friends but was in the group chat with the entire class texted me and asked me if I saw the text r wrote. I told her yes. Then she asked if I liked him back. I knew that she was going to ask me and when I answered she would send it to her bestie and her bestie would send it to the whole class. So I just ignored her text. That was during the weekend. So come the school week, everyone is asking me ‘do u like r?’ ‘Are you and r dating’ ‘do you know’ and all that jazz. And one brat  told me ‘go kiss r’. My answer for all of those questions except the last one were ‘I’m not going to answer that question’ ‘no’ and ‘yes’ respectively (is that the right word?). Now, my question for u is what do I do? Do I text this boy and ask him why he did that? If it was a dare? Does he actually like me? (But I’m worried that if I do, he’ll take a picture and send it to everyone) or do I talk to him in real life. Or do I just ignore it and wait for it to be forgotten?  I will appreciate any piece of advise you have to offer. Thank you! 

Hi Arty –

Before anything else, I have one big statement for you:  you are NOT being “dramatic and selfish.”  You went through something terrifying with that crazy FaceTime incident, and are still trying to make sense of it, as anyone would. 

But I’m going to give you a suggestion on how to deal with all this that might sound really odd:  Take a deep breath, and do nothing!

Here’s my thought.  First of all, it seems quite clear that everyone quickly forgot about that idiotic story about you and the child.  It sounds to me like your class looooooves drama, and so is always looking for something new to talk about, so that crazy tale was forgotten as soon as some other nutty one came around!

Secondly, with the story about r, all he’s done was to write that note that said he liked you.  Well “like” is a very vague word.  I like you and I’ve never met you!  But he might mean that he thinks you’re cute (which anyone could say, whether or not they were actually interested in getting involved with you).  Or he might mean he has a huge crush on you.   Or, as you suggest, he might have just said it on a dare.

Regardless, he hasn’t done anything more about it.  And while a bunch of people are asking you how you feel about him (and I don’t know – do you actually feel anything toward him, good or bad?), they’ve probably moved on to other, equally earth-shaking questions, in the seven days since you wrote me.  But unless he’s done anything (like talk with you, or even try to get your attention), you have no responsibility in this at all!

You see, you care a lot about what your peers say and think about you, of course.  But what you’re not focusing on, or at least not telling me, is what you want.  In all the nutty stuff you wrote me about, I don’t hear anything about your excitement or hurt or wishes.  And I’m guessing that’s because they aren’t as important to you right now as what the group thinks and feels about you!

So focus on that.  Would you like r to approach you?  Let him know.  Would you prefer he not?  Then keep things as they are.

I know it seems the opposite is true, but YOU HAVE ALL THE POWER HERE!  Someone saying they like you is a nice compliment but nothing more.  People talk all the time about liking pop stars and actresses, who don’t need to respond at all.  Neither do you!  

You’re just fine, my friend.  And what’s cool is that, for the second time in a very short while, everyone at school got focused on you.  Think how it would feel to be one of those kids no one ever thinks about!  You’re one of the lucky ones!

So stay cool, and take that deep breath — and don’t do anything till you have a feeling that makes you do something.  You have the power, and you have the right!

All my best,


How to teach faith to teenagers starting to question everything

OfA asks:

I teach teenagers in church, but recently they have become increasingly difficult to manage, questioning everything. What can I change to make them cooperate? The age range is 14 -16, boys and girls. P.S: I am a mother of two teenagers, a boy and a girl.

Hi OfA –

            I love your question.  Because you’re getting at such an important aspect of the development of humans!  When we puppies are first put on leashes, we have no idea what to do, and fall down, or pull, or whatever, in complete confusion.  But later, as we learn what we’re supposed to do and how leashes work, we start to actively, knowingly, fight against them.  We’ll pull away, try to walk ahead of our people, take the leash in our mouths – anything to feel in control.  That doesn’t make us bad dogs; it’s fully normal and actually a sign of character and intelligence.  Sure, it has to be “trained out” of us, but it’s nothing of any concern.

            Similarly, humans go through two main stages when growing up, when they’re just oppositional as anything.  The first is, famously, around two years old, what’s often called “the terrible Twos.”  That’s when you guys learn the ability to say “No,” and all hell breaks loose.  You become obstinate, demanding, and refusing of all sorts of things.  And if your parenting is good, this is a time when you learn both your strengths and the limits of your strength, the joy of expression and the importance of boundaries.  And you start to get along pretty well with your parents and other authority figures.  And that lasts, oh maybe about ten years.  And then…

            Teenage hits!  After the comparatively healthy experience of childhood, humans get to a point where their bodies change, their interests change, and their brains grow – and suddenly they experience the really odd sensation of being neither children nor adults, or maybe it’s both children and adults.  And they hit a wonderful frustration where they realize that everything they took for granted as children (that their parents are right about everything, that their society’s rules all make sense, that theirs is the only acceptable religion, etc.) might not be completely true.  And so they enter a time of doubt.  Of questioning everything.  And, usually, of deciding that everything they’ve ever been told is actually false!

This period lasts a few years, after which, if all goes well, the young adults start to actually think for themselves.  No longer are Mom and Dad always right, or always wrong, but rather… well, I’ll defer to Mark Twain on this one, who famously said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Now you’re dealing with this struggle on two fronts.  First, as a parent.  But it sounds as though you’re managing that one pretty well.  But then, as a teacher in a church!  Where of course your job involves teaching things that are based in faith – which means always open to question!

How can anyone do it?

Well I have one answer – by encouraging just that sort of thinking.  By siding with the doubting, questioning, minds of the teens instead of struggling against them.

Look at yourself.  You sound like an intelligent person (especially as ONLY the most intelligent people join my Pack!).  Have you never questioned the teachings of your faith?  How did you arrive at the conclusions that made you devout enough to teach them yourself?  Your job is to help your students through that process. 

Besides, I don’t know what faith you work in, but doesn’t it include doubt in its teachings?  Judaism includes the story of Job, who questioned how badly his life was going.  Christianity includes Jesus’ times of doubt, as well as countless stories of the doubts of the apostles and saints.  And both of those and Islam all include the story of Abraham’s questioning of the order to kill his son.  And of course the Buddha went through years of indulgence in everything other than the wisdom he eventually learned!

So I’d start with these sorts of parables – how did others in your faith’s history contend with doubt, with questioning?

And then I’d go even deeper.  What do your students question about the faith itself?  For example, in the book of Genesis, there are two completely different versions of the story of creation.  Can both be accurate?  If not, how do you explain that?  What’s the history of the writing of your main texts?  Did they come out at different times?  Who is on record as writing them?  Are there issues of translation?

Do you see what I’m doing?  I’m engaging the curiosity, the questioning, the impassioned teenagehood of the students.  I’m telling them that they’re absolutely right to be in the mindset they’re in.  And as such, I’m letting them know that they’re miracles of creation just as they are… just as your church does!  Doing this gives them a reason to actually accept the teachings of your faith, because it has allowed them room to question, and yes, to doubt.

            Anyway, it’s worth a try.  See what happens.  If it doesn’t work, you won’t be any worse off than you were.

            And if it does?  Well then you’ll find your students saying “I can’t believe how much OfA learned in one week!”

            Best of Luck!  Please let me know how it goes!


2 Speaking and Barking – the power of rhetoric

While I’m always happy to speak out against needless pollution and wars, I tend to avoid discussing politics.  It’s not that I think no one else should talk about them, it’s just that my small brain can’t quite get my head around most of the issues.  Is one tax rate better than another?  What are the appropriate consequences for certain crimes?  Who has the right to a piece of land, the people who’ve lived on it recently or the people whose ancestors were kicked off or tricked out of it in the past?  These questions are all WAY beyond my doggy brain.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of what’s going on around me.  In my country, the United States, these last few months have been consumed by an election – in fact, if it weren’t for the global pandemic, I’m not sure anything other than the election would have even made the news!  But what was different about this election from others was that we didn’t hear all that much argument about policies or general stances.  This election was almost completely about one person – and whether a voter loved or hated him (not too many felt any lesser emotions!).  And often, about whether you loved or hated the things he said.

Now most of you Pack members don’t live in this country, and the election is over anyway, so I have no reason to bring up what’s good or bad about the candidates.  But it turned out that that one who was so central to everything lost – far more voters decided against him than for him – and so won’t be in charge anymore. 

And because of that, there will be all sorts of questioning about how he got power, what he did with it, and whether that was right or wrong, good or bad.

But I want to focus on one thing he has been downright brilliant at, and which enabled him to overturn centuries of tradition of this country.  His Rhetoric.

Rhetoric basically means the art of speaking and arguing.  Sure, we all know that it’s best to speak your words clearly enough to be understood, and to use logic in your arguments.  Even a dog understands that!  But Rhetoric moves beyond those, to questions of how one moves people, how one uses words to affect them emotionally – and very much in this case, how one can use Rhetoric to overpower logic and facts.  Think of it like this – there’s speaking and there’s barking.  Speaking exchanges information, while barking creates emotion.  Rhetoric is about the crossover between the two.

Maybe you’ve seen or read Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, where he dramatizes the two great speeches given after Caesar’s death.  Brutus speaks sensibly, explaining why he agreed to join the conspiracy against the late leader.  But he’s followed by Marc Antony, who uses brilliant Rhetoric to rile the crowd against the conspirators and start a civil war.

Now our finished leader hasn’t achieved that, or tried to exactly.  But he has been able to use words to accomplish lots, and in ways that other leaders could borrow.  And – and here’s my main point here – doing so will overpower facts and logic yet again. 

So I want to go through a bunch of what he did, so that you, my wonderful Pack members, can see these tricks when they’re used in your countries, and then see past them to decide what you really want in your leaders.

Almost all I’m saying here is derived from an amazing book, Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Logic of Donald Trump by Jennifer Mercieca.  She’s a professor of Linguistics and Rhetoric, and studied every word Mr. Trump put out – in speeches, debates, and social media – during his victorious 2016 election campaign.  And she found six major techniques he used.  Which I’ll go over here.

First, Argumentum ad Populum, or Appeal to the Crowd.  You see this one when a speaker compliments the group they’re speaking to “What a beautiful audience!” or argues that their crowd proves they’re right, “How can anyone argue with this?!”  Now there’s nothing wrong with this in, say, entertainment, when the argument gets made “How can 50 million Queen’s Gambit fans be wrong!”  But when someone argues, in your country, that a crowd of tens of thousands proves they’re the majority opinion… it’s just not true.  Maybe tens of millions are completely against them!

Second, Patriotism.  Hey I love my yard as much as anyone could, so I sure understand loving your hometown or country.  Cheer them on at the Olympics (when they return) and support your police and your soldiers who work to protect you, absolutely (especially your Canine Patrol if there is one!).  But when a speaker argues that your country or people are the best in the world… get suspicious.  And when they say that your country ought to be in charge of the world, and would be if you just put them in charge… get afraid.  Lots of leaders have tried this, and the last to really succeed was maybe Genghis Khan or the Roman Empire, depending on your views.  Napoleon failed, Hitler failed, and so will anyone else who tries.  Don’t give them the chance.

Third, Paralipsis, from the Greek for “To Leave to the Side.”  This one is my favorite, where one says, “I’m not saying _________, but I’m just saying _________.”  Like I might say “I’m not saying cats stink, but everyone knows cats smell really bad.”  Or maybe I say “Lots of experts say that cats stink – now I’m not saying it, I never would, but I just thought you should know that the experts say they just reek.”  It’s a cowardly way of saying something bad.  But it can be very powerful.  On one hand, it enables the speaker to say something mean or untrue without having to take responsibility for having said it.  But also it can make listeners feel like they’re part of an “in-crowd.”  Like the way any of you who don’t like cats might have snickered at my comments above.  But hey, that’s just you snickering.  I didn’t say anything bad about sweet little kitties!  I never would!  (heh heh)

Fourth, Argumentum ad Hominem, or Appeal to the Person…  but this kind of “appeal” isn’t a positive one.  This is where the speaker argues that what a person says doesn’t matter, because of some fault in them (real or imagined).  “Ahmed says I took five dollars from his wallet?  Well everyone knows Ahmed is a fool – remember how we all laughed when he got that a zero on the math test!”  Or “Indira says she saw me kick a dog?  Well she’s always been a liar.”  In both cases, the speaker didn’t even deny the accusation.  They just ignore it by insulting the other person.  In politics this can go even further, “My opponent says my tax plan will hurt our nation’s education.  Well you can’t trust her because her husband cheated on her!”  (As silly as this sounds, this worked in my country!)

Fifth, Argument ad Baculum, or, and I hate this term, Appeal to the Stick.  Threatening force or intimidation to overwhelm the speaker’s opposition.  “That newspaper said I stole money from my business partners.  Well clearly they’re just against me, so when I’m elected I’m going to put them out of business!”  Or just talking over your opponent all the time, or stalking them in a threatening manner (we’ve seen these happen here too!).  Or “Hey there’s a protester against me in the crowd, I hope someone punches him in the face!”  Again, it’s a cowardly act – if someone did punch that person in the face, the speaker would instantly deny all responsibility for it, saying “Oh I was just expressing my frustration; I didn’t tell them to do it.”

And Sixth, Reification, or turning people into things.  We see this most often in war.  It’s very hard for anyone to go off to overtake or kill someone when they see them as people, so leaders in war will work to dehumanize their opposition.  “They’re not people, they’re animals!”  Or “They’re godless, and our God orders us to kill or convert them.”  But you hear it in politics in subtler ways.  “The other party can’t think for themselves, they’re just a mob.”  And of course, “We’re the real (name your country here).  The ones who vote against me are against (your country).”

Now my friend Handsome added one more to Merceica’s list, from the world of Psychology, which is Projection. In the usual meaning, that’s when someone sees or is bothered by a quality of theirs in another person.  Let’s say you tend to be a flirt, but then you’re horribly bothered when you see someone else flirting.  Or else, you accuse someone else of flirting when they’re not even doing it at all!  But in this case, it’s the speaker accusing their opponent of exactly what the speaker does.  Maybe you’re a constant liar, and your opponent isn’t, but you keep saying they are enough to get your supporters to believe it.  Or you’re physically unfit, but you always accuse your opponent of being far weaker than you.  This both hurts your opponent and makes you look like you don’t have the fault, even if everyone can see that you do!

There are, of course, countless other Rhetorical tricks that one can use to achieve success in politics or other arenas.  But these are the ones that we’ve been watching, and in many ways suffering from, here for the last few years.  It would be a wonderful thing if all of you, wherever you live, could learn from our experience.  And, at the same time, if you can learn to use some of these tricks yourselves, but just use them for fun or even good positive reasons, then that’s all the better.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go back to the only way I know how to be – honest, troublemaking, loving, and optimistic that better days lie just ahead, for all of us.  And that’s not just an idle bark!

4 Sniffing for Enthusiasm – keys to re-finding motivation

            Handsome doesn’t talk with me about his work very often, but lately he sure has.  You see, he’s a therapist who works with lots of young people, and usually his job is full of variety – this 5-year-old is going through her parents’ divorce, this 9-year-old is getting bullied, this 12-year-old is acting depressed while no one knows why, and this 16-year-old has been sneaking out at night and smoking cigarettes with the wrong friends. 

            But not now.  Today nearly every youth Handsome sees has the same issue: Motivation.

            Now sure, that’s nothing new.  Kids get bored, and teens get boreder.  Always have.  But – and you know very well what I’m getting to here – this Coronavirus year isn’t like anything that’s happened before.  Children who have the same instincts as puppies – to get out and play and tumble and grab and hug and punch and kiss and pull hair – are stuck alone inside, with just some electronic screens to entertain them.  And teens who, just as instinctually, crave to be out laughing and flirting and showing off in the best ways, are trapped, being told to just do the rest of their overlong homework.

            And both, instead of spending their school hours trying and competing for grades, or passing notes to their classmates with silly drawings of the teacher, are (if they’re lucky enough to be able to afford it) sitting in front of a boring computer, where their teacher is trying as hard as they can to keep their students awake and focused on some subject that…  well… if they found it all that interesting, they’d have been learning about it on their own, right?!

            NO one is enjoying this, NO one wants it to continue, but NO one has a solution just yet.  So EVERYone is annoyed, frustrated, bored, and ANYthing but motivated!

            And how does that show up?  Kids sending in blank homework assignments, good students falling behind because they can’t focus, or top-level students just turning their screens off and saying “This is a waste of my time and theirs.  I’m learning nothing.  I quit.”

            What’s anyone to do?!  Is there a solution? 

            Well sure.  A cure, a vaccine, a treatment good enough for everyone to dare getting into groups again – that’ll fix this beautifully.  But for now, what can students do?  Or teachers?  Or parents?

            Now… you know what I’m going to say, don’t you.  There is an answer:  Stop asking machines or humans, and study us dogs instead!

            In most ways, our brains are just simpler versions of people’s.  Yeah, we have better smelling, and more squirrel-focus, but our relationship to motivation is just like yours.  So what do we do when we’re stuck inside an apartment or a yard all day, or even a cage?  Or when we’ve had our joy beaten out of us by abuse or neglect?  Or when we’re just plain old lonely?  How do we get motivated?  And how can that apply to you?

            Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Bribery Works!  No pooch was ever born wanting to sit or stay or heel on command.  And trainers have found that punishment isn’t half as effective a teaching method as reward.  Fill your pockets with good-smelling treats, and your pup will be happy to train for as long as you wish, constantly doing their best to please you.  So why not do the same with students?  A full school day earns a chocolate cupcake.  A good grade on a test earns a trip to the ice cream shop, and a great report card brings in that video game they’ve wanted for months.  Yes, over time you want them to feel motivation in themselves, but THIS ISN’T THE TIME FOR THAT!  (And for those of you too old to be bribed – nothing wrong with bribing yourself.  “Finish this paper, and I get to watch the big game with a beer!”)
  2. Get Outdoors!  There’s a reason we pups go crazy when we see you pull out a leash – our instincts are dying to get us out away from our homes, exploring, sniffing, experiencing, and especially MOVING.  Don’t forget – until very recently, humans spent most of their time outdoors too.  We species share a deep connection to nature that replenishes and invigorates us all.  So get out there – take a walk, work in your garden, or just roll around in a park.  And please don’t tell me “But I’ll get dirty!”  That’s not dirt – that’s nature, that’s God, that’s history and beauty and meaning out there.  What you’re wearing is chemicals and dyes and plastics and stuff. Roll in something way better!
  3. Try to Get Curious.  Stick a dog in a yard for eight hours while our family is away, and what do we do?  Do we stare at the wall, complaining we’re bored?  Nope, we sniff.  There’s nothing interesting to us yet, but we look around for it.  Our ears twist around like sails, we check out every corner, we find what different places feel like to lie down.  And almost every time, we find something interesting.  A lizard ran by here.  A bird is singing in a tree over there.  Someone spilled something really delicious all over this place.  And how does that apply to school?  Well, let’s say you’re studying history, and that’s never been your thing.  A bunch of kings and national boundaries.  Borrrring.  But what if you think of it like a gang war, with every leader trying to hold on to their turf while someone else on their side plots to take their place.  Or an intergalactic battle for planets that will be won by the side with the greatest new weaponry.  Or a group of sly crafty mean girls each plotting how to become the alpha of the group.  Suddenly this is interesting to you?  Then you’ve already succeeded.
  4. Socialize!  Yeah I know what we’re after here is motivation to study harder and do more work.  But wasn’t that easier when everyone hung out together, even in classes and in between them?  Now, everyone’s feeling this gigantic hunger for community and contact, so bad it hurts in the heart!  And of course that’s getting in the way of your motivation.  So reach out – call a friend you haven’t spoken to in months (or years), set up a way to meet either virtually or safely in person, and tell dumb jokes, reminisce about good times, talk about crushes, ANYTHING.  And you’ll find it helps the rest of your life too.
  5. Look Forward!  We dogs don’t have nearly the sense of time you humans do.  We live in the moment mostly.  But your sense of motivation has a lot to do with what’s coming up.  “I gotta study my French tonight because there’s a test tomorrow.”  “I need to get better at kicking before the game next week.”  “I have to get this dress cleaned and pressed before the dance!”  But now, since no one seems to know what’s coming up anytime soon, that whole part of your brilliant brains is sitting unused.  But it doesn’t have to.  Just think further into the future:  SOMEday you’ll be able to go to regular schools again, and you’ll want to have moved forward with the rest of your class.  SOMEday you’ll want to go to college or university or get a job, and how you did today in school will matter.  And SOMEday you’ll be sitting around with your friends and family, and talking about how crazy a time 2020 was.  These WILL happen.  So focus on them, as much as you can.  Motivation will build there.

So that’s what I’ve got for now.  If you have any other suggestions, please let me know and I’ll put them into the next newsletter.

But for now, just know, I have only one motivation for writing here, and it’s YOU.  You’re what matters to me, you’re my whole reason for writing at all. 

So thank you.  Without you, I’d only be able to walk around my yard, sniffing at the fence, hoping to find a little scent, somewhere, of squirrel!

What to do when your family is pushing you to a profession you don’t want

Tuktuk asks:

I’ve been happy these days and mostly avoiding any negative thoughts, but then suddenly I had a thought that I am not going into the right profession. I am a medical student. I feel like I am not in the right profession because my parents and my family expect a lot out of me. They say there’s no pressure but indirectly I can feel the tension. My mother has said since I was young that she doesn’t compare me with other kids, but indirectly she used to, and I used to feel pressured all the time. I had to be on my best behavior because she was a teacher in my school, and now when I am in college they constantly remind me that I have to be a successful doctor. I get overwhelmed by everyone’s expectations these days and due to this thinking I haven’t been doing anything. My career choice was the only thing I never doubted, and felt that it was my own decision, but now I feel that even that was forced on me indirectly. I feel I have no uniqueness in me. I don’t feel useless but rather tired of everything that’s going on around me and just want to run away. I feel like when I’ll die no one will know me because I couldn’t leave a mark, and was rather like a piece of dirt which goes away when the surface is cleaned.

Hi Tuktuk –

            I have so much to say to this, but let me start with your last sentence.  I believe that you feel this, but I promise you the opposite is the truth.  Even if you stay on exactly the path you’re on right now, you are clearly the focus of your parents’ dreams, and would become someone who would care for, and maybe even save the lives of, hundreds or thousands of people.  I remember when I broke my toe by jumping on the fence to bark at our neighbors.  I was maybe a year old?  But I can tell you everything about that pet emergency hospital, each person who worked on me, and what the needles felt like going in, how kindly they wrapped up my foot (and how frantic Handsome was while waiting for me).  And that was a broken toe – I was maybe there an hour.  You might become a lot more involved in some people’s lives than those professionals were in mine!

            But that’s all about if you stay on the same path.  A path you’re beginning to doubt.

            Don’t get me wrong – I love doctors and believe there’s no more noble profession.  But I also absolutely LOVE that you’re going through this – wherever it leads.

            Here’s what’s going on, my friend.  Your brain is developing in a way it couldn’t when you were even just a year or two younger.  You’re starting to question everything in your life – and that’s the BEST THING YOU CAN DO!  You’re realizing that decisions you believed were your own were actually your parents’. 

            This doesn’t make them villains, at all.  What’s important here is that you’re doing something really important that we dogs can’t do, and about half of people can’t do.  It’s called Metacognition, and means the ability to think about your own thinking.  You are going through a profound reassessment of your whole life so far, that’s going to determine a great deal of your future. 

            I imagine you’ve heard the term “Midlife Crisis.”  This is something that happens to lots of humans around age 40 or so, when they suddenly question everything in their lives, such as their marriages and careers.  How fortunate that you’re doing that NOW! 

            And here’s what’s so important about this – whatever decision you make about your career WILL be yours now.  If you decide to become a professor of Philosophy (which would suit your deep-thinking brain), or a struggling pop singer, or, yes, a doctor – any of those choices will be yours, and you’ll know it!

            But now here’s the bad news.  I can’t help you with your decision.  Not because I don’t have opinions, but because it has to be your decision!  And maybe that’s something you can’t decide right now.  Maybe you need to take some time off of school (if so, this might be a great time to do it, while many of your classes are likely online); maybe you need to travel the world (if so, this is a lousy time to do it, with the border closings and all the fear); or maybe you can stick with your classes for another term while you try to figure things out.

            Have you ever heard of the movie director George Miller?  He was you!  He was the son of proud, hard-working Greek immigrants in Australia, who’d always dreamt that their bright son would become a doctor.  And so he did.  He studied hard, and got his degree, and in his first residency, he worked in an emergency room.  And every night, he’d see people come in with horrible injuries from auto accidents.  And bit by bit, he talked about what these brought to his mind with a friend of his who wanted to produce movies.  And eventually he quit his medical job and they made a violent low-budget film with a bunch of car action.  It was called Mad Max.  Three sequels, many other films and minseries, and Oscar nominations and wins later, he’s pretty happy with his decision.

            Another similar story is of a great cartoonist.  I don’t know if they print Pearls Before Swine where you are, but it’s Handsome’s favorite comic strip these days.  Its creator, Stephan Pastis (hmm… also of Greek heritage) did what he was supposed to do and became a lawyer.  And hated it.  And would sit around bored, doodling little funny images to keep himself amused.  And eventually… well you get the idea.

            And then there’s the other story.  Not of one person but of millions.  Who went into the profession that was chosen for them, experienced just the doubt you’re having, but then found a way to do those jobs that inspired them, gave their lives meaning, and connected directly to their hearts.

            What’s important to me is that you’re asking this question.  Whatever answer you find, your life will be beautifully improved by your having gone through this.

            And, while I’ve got nothing against dirt – I love to roll around in it and track it into our house – whatever you become will, I promise, not be seen as just a speck of it.  You will be amazing.



What to do when you unintentionally offend someone

AayuTheLegend asks: I get sooooo annoyed by the girls in my class. They take a double meaning to everything I say. And get angry. Like once I said “Do u wanna grab a cup of coffee?” I got a reply saying, “You don’t respect me, you objectify me!” I wasn’t even looking at her that way. I just wanted to be a friend. I mean how should I calm myself down?

Hi AayuTheLegend –

Now of course there’s a lot I don’t know about the situation.  Maybe you’d done something that bothered this girl before, or maybe she’d had something awful happen to her that morning.

But I’m going to assume neither is true.  I’m going to assume both of you were fully innocent in this situation.  So if that’s the case, how did it happen?

My friend, you need to look at the world of a school from outside (the way I do).  Especially a high school or university.  As female beauty is too often judged these days, that’s the age when girls/women are their most attractive.  And hormonally, that’s when boys/men are their most focused on sex.  So young ladies are constantly aware, maybe more than any other time in their lives, of how they’re being looked at, judged, craved, rejected, all that.  And that’s assuming everyone’s being completely polite.

But I find that often that’s not the case.  Boys at this age (I won’t say “men”) can also be mean and crude, and feel a stupid sense of strength by showing off their objectification of womenfolk.  My human friend Handsome tells me that there was a house at the university he went to, where boys would sit out on a balcony and hold up numbers as the ladies walked by, rating them from one to ten. 

And this would be rough enough, but then you need to add in how females get these messages all day anyway!  From constant media saying you need to be as thin as Taylor Swift, as curvy as Kim Kardashian, and as tall as a supermodel.  And while this is happening to boys more now too (What?  You don’t have an eightpack like Zac Ephron?), for girls it’s far worse.  I’ll bet you’d be okay with showing up at school looking sloppy some morning after you’d overslept.  Imagine if you were then judged for that for the rest of the year; THAT’S what the girls go through!  (And judged as harshly, or worse, by other girls than by the boys!).

So all this is to say, my guess is that’s where that girl was when you made your friendly offer to her.  She was so sick of it all – so miserably DONE with being judged on all these stupid grounds, valued only for her beauty instead of the qualities she cares about, and here a nice boy walked up to her and asked her (and not a group of people) to have coffee. 

And here’s the irony – while she was sick of being pre-judged, she was pre-judging YOU!  You may have wanted to discuss the Chemistry homework, or to ask about a political opinion she’d shared in class.  But because you were a member of the group that had treated her only as a member of a group, she snapped at you!

My friend, you started your letter by saying how annoyed you are by the girls in your class, who take a double-meaning to everything.  My suggestion is that you start getting annoyed with the people in the world, who take at least a double-meaning to everything instead!  And so, when a young woman reacts in this way to you, you’re able to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to come off as that kind of guy.  I really just wanted to talk with you about something you said in class.  But I sure understand how you’d be sick of being objectified.  Me too.  People can have such stupid values.”  Then when she stares at you, open-mouthed, because she can’t believe you’re saying something so aware, throw in “I can see this is a bad time.  But maybe some other time I’d love to talk.  Maybe about objectification.”  Smile, turn, and walk away. 

AayuTheLegend, you would become a legend in her mind at that moment!  The nonsensical system that she’s feeling so oppressed by?  You’d have blown a hole in it forever!

Oh and by the way, outside of the occasional bath and (I HATE THESE) toenail clipping, nothing is ever done for my looks.  I don’t diet, no makeup, nothing.  And every day I hear comments on how beautiful I am.  In at least this area, we dogs live a way better life than you humans give yourselves!

Thanks again!


4 Your Commencement: graduating into a new world

One of the sadder side-effects of this pandemic (far less than the tolls of death and illness, and economic pain, but still real) is what it’s done to the final year of school for so many students.  Athletes unable to shine in the sports they’ve mastered, performers not getting the chance to act and sing in the roles they’ve worked so hard on, romances not getting to show off at their proms… and everyone missing out on the big deal – to celebrate graduation.

Now of course, they’ll still get their diplomas.  No one’s taking that away.  It’s not like one of those dreams I’ve seen Handsome wake from in a trembling sweat, where he has to retake classes in his high school!  It’s just that ceremonies and rituals have a great meaning for you humans, and a whole generation is missing out on this one.

But are they really?  Aren’t they experiencing a different graduation, far more profound than the goofy pomposity where people wear flat hats?  They have the whole current world watching as they graduate into a whole new world, a changed reality.

And instead of listening to (probably) boring speeches by their teachers or somebody they’ve never heard of who graduated from their school before they were born, they’re watching new art forms and technologies bloom, made for them.

But wait, I’m not just talking about the 18-year-olds, the Class of 2020.  I’m barking at the entire human race out there.  You ALL are graduating!  You have finished learning whatever you could in the Pre-Coronavirus world, and are being released into a new one – one you don’t fully understand, with new responsibilities, new hopes, and new fears.  It’s what high-school and university graduates have always experienced, but now it’s everyone.

Just like all high schoolers ever, all of humanity has felt victimized these last months, like the world expects everything of them and isn’t giving them the support they need.  And I’m not going to tell anyone they’ve been wrong to feel this.  But the change is on. 

And just as university graduates always have, you’re being told you’re expected to be responsible leaders now, while deep down you know you’re not prepared for that. 

So you current students (or for those who’re older, looking back on when you were), when you were in school, did you ever cheat on a Biology exam without learning the material?  Did you squeak through a History class without really understanding it?  Did you drop that Math course halfway before it was done? 

Too bad.  You’re out of school.  You’re heading into the world with exactly the knowledge you have.  No more…

…But also… No less!  You are more prepared than you know, and have learned thousands of lessons along your awkward journey, just like everyone else.

So Congratulations, and Happy Graduation!


But when I say that you’re graduating, what does that really mean?  If you could attend a ceremony now, what would it really be about, in your life?

This week, I got an amazing letter from tuktuk, one of my Pack members.  It said more about the meaning of graduation than any speech I’ve ever heard.  And it’s just a description of a… well I’ll let her tell you…

I had a dream. At my school, when we graduate, we have a formal farewell, where teachers talk about the students.  In my dream, we were having that ceremony in the playground. I was standing with a friend D, and my other friends were also there.

And suddenly I saw the younger version of a friend, and D started calling him out, and he waved back.  Then we realized that all of our younger versions were playing in the round. So, I went to find my younger version. I was having a hard time finding her. Then, the bell rang and all the kids were lined up and there I found myself.

I called her out and talked to her. I asked her to not to repeat the mistakes I did when I was young, and to be happy. And she asked me to do the same, and not to look back, and to focus on my future.

Then everyone were gathering in the ground, and I saw my mother from a distance and wanted to show her my younger version. I went to her and showed her mini-me, and then I asked her to click a picture of me with her.

Then I woke up. The dream was strange and made me happy. I want to know the meaning behind my dream.

Well, as you can guess, I told her that I thought that dream held more meaning than this doggy brain can possibly grasp.  But I just LOVE the idea that the most important guest at a graduation isn’t your friends or your family, but you – the you of your past, and the you of your future. 

What would you tell that younger you if you could today?  And what would they tell you?  What would you tell your future you?  And what might they say to you?

The advice is going to be different for everyone.  Did you spend high school studying all the time and avoiding a social life?  Well if so, wouldn’t you tell that version of you to put the books away some night and go make a fool of yourself at a party?  Or did you spend school playing video games and sneaking out to vape with friends?  Maybe you’d tell that you, “Stop wasting your time!  Do something useful!” 

And what would you tell the you that’s moving forward now?  I think tuktuk’s advice is great, to focus on the future and not the mistakes of the past (though of course they’ll keep coming back, as they always do!). 

For example, did you accidentally go out last week without a mask?  Did you hug a friend when you weren’t supposed to?  Well, you could focus on “I’m such an air-head!  I could have caused someone’s death!  I’m so horrible!”  Or you could say, “Hmm… I need to learn from that.  Maybe I’ll get an extra mask and keep it in my pocket in case I forget again.”  And “I need to stay more focused, and not hug people though I want to so badly!”  That’s a much healthier way to deal with those screwups. 

Because, my friends, every one of us is our present, our past, and our future, right now.  I am so in awe of the end of tuktuk’s dream – getting a picture of herself with her younger self, taken by her mother.  What a great definition of your eternal self! 

I recommended to her, and I do to all of you, to put some time aside and follow through on that idea.  However you’d do it.  Draw a picture of you and your younger self.  Or use your brilliance on computers to create a photograph of you two together.  Or maybe write a play where you two meet and talk.  Whatever you create will be your truth, right now.  And maybe add your future self in there as well.

The world is new every day, my friends.  And each of you get to be a part of creating what it will be.  This virus will go down, or maybe even go away.  What matters is what the post-pandemic world will be.  And that’s up to you.

Talk to your past, your future, your parents and friends, and most importantly to your present selves.  Whether you’re 9 or 99, the most exciting moment ever, full of more potential than ever before, is right now.

So throw that goofy hat in the air, give a joyous yell, and leap into it! It’s YOURS!

What to do when you get depressed at college

Loser101 asks:  You’ll be glad to know that I’m overcoming my slight body dysmorphia and I finally think I’m pretty good looking haha, and I’ve gotten into my dream university. Life’s going pretty good but I feel lonely, all my friends are drifting away, they’re busy with their own lives, and it’s kind of hard to accept. I’m learning but it’s a slow process. I’ve been doing the exact same routine of checking my socials continuously every day for the past two months, and it’s a drag honestly. I’m aware of this toxic behaviour but I can’t let it go. I want to feel wanted by people. I broke up two months ago – the guy was toxic so it was good I guess, but I miss having someone to talk to constantly. It’s hard really, I don’t know why, but I can’t focus on myself like some of my friends tell me to when I’m telling them these things. Recently I’ve started getting into prayer and meditation – they do help but I relapse at times.

Hi Loser101 –

         I don’t know where you live, but if it’s in the northern hemisphere, I’m going to tell you that you’re right on schedule.  The January/February time is known by many colleges and universities as the highest time for Depression and Isolation there.  I’m not sure why – maybe because people have just reconnected with their families, or maybe because it’s winter and harder to go outdoors, or perhaps just because it’s that time in the transition from everyone you know there being strangers into friends into people who will matter to you the rest of your life. 

         Whatever the cause, what you’re experiencing could not be more normal.  The alienation, the questioning.  Especially, ESPECIALLY, because you broke up with that guy two months ago.  I’m sure you’ll be better off in the long run, but for right now, you’re remembering how nice it was to have a boyfriend!

         So I have two recommendations.  First is to accept that this is just a transitional time, and to make some plans over the next couple of months to get away when you can.  Do you have someone you’re friendly enough with to take a day-trip on a weekend to visit somewhere nearby?  Or maybe you have some family you could visit for a day or two?  Just get through this time – things WILL get better, and likely that’ll happen when the weather improves and everyone around you develops better moods!

         But second, spending all that time on social media, while it does help you feel less alone, just keeps you more connected with your “outside” life, and less with the people you’re near right now.  Can you spend part of that time getting together with some of these new people and doing something fun?  Seeing a movie, grabbing a meal, or just complaining about how damned depressing everything is?!

         We dogs don’t really experience what you’re living.  For me, the most depressing times I’ve ever known have been when I’ve been locked up in a pound, a kennel, or a veterinarian’s office.  And all those times I’ve been literally  kept away from everyone and everything I know.  Other dogs experience being given away by their families, and maybe that’s closer to what you’re going through – even though you’re where you are as a choice!

         What we dogs are great at is what you’re not doing right now – exploring our world, finding ways to socialize, ways to make life interesting.  I’m guessing you’ll have no trouble doing just that, around March. 

         But for now, just do your best.  Get through this time, and see if you can make some good experiences.  Before you know it, everything will likely change and your current blah world will become your favorite place.

         All my best,


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