Love Letters to Humans (No. 17) – On Love and Disobedience

Bad Dogs, Good Girls (and Your Preferred Airline Doesn’t Actually Love You)

Rewards and status are not love. Validation is not love. Being good will not get you love.

Our dog, Lucy, is decidedly not a good boy. She is a sweet, sweet devil running around in a furry skin-sack, a willfully terrible mutt, and an integral member of our family. We love her endlessly. Also, she is woefully disobedient.

She doesn’t have to be good.
We belong to each other.

A good boy is a well-behaved dog, according to a household’s rules about how a dog is supposed to behave. Good boys behave in a predictably acceptable way. Good boys get treats (rewards).

Good hair is well-behaved hair. It easily arranges itself according to the dominant culture’s standards of beauty. It does what it is supposed to do, mostly predictably, without fuss (or it at least appears to). Good hair garners compliments and envy (rewards + status).

Good customers are well-behaved. They purchase according to the dominant culture’s standards of consumerism and brand loyalty. They do what they are supposed to do, mostly predictably, and get rewards and status (uh… rewards + status).

Good girls are well-behaved women. They carry themselves according to the dominant culture’s standards—mostly of beauty (we can talk about this more). They do not act in ways that are unbecoming (unattractive). They do what they are supposed to do, mostly predictably, without fuss (or at least appear to). Good girls—in theory—get protection, if not real safety, and respectability, if not actual respect (rewards + status).

Good bodies are visually well-behaved, arranging themselves according the dominant culture’s standards of attractiveness, ability, size, color, proportion. They are predictably productive in any number of ways (available to be consumed), and *appear* healthy (regardless of their actual state of health). Among other rewards, “good” bodies get to exist in public spaces without derision, judgment, obvious physical discomfort, or stigma (rewards). They are held up as examples (models, if you will) of the superior discipline to which the rest of society may aspire (status).

In a context of oppressive systems where punishment and rewards are the basis of our relationships to society, to one another, to God, and to ourselves, goodness and obedience are generally synonymous. Rewards and status are mistaken for love.

Let us de-couple love and obedience, and remember instead that love and belonging are inextricably tied to one another.

Let us love, celebrate, nurture, and protect each other (not just the “good” people)… in all of our unruliness, in all of our disobedience, because we belong to each other.

Love IS. It cannot be earned and thus is an impossible reward for a goodness we can never achieve. Let us stop withholding it from ourselves and others in punishment for not being good (enough).

May we refuse to settle for the meager, fleeting rewards of goodness, and instead create the true safety, connection, and joy that can only be found in belonging to each other.

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