MYTHBREAKER, VOLUME 1

Lt. Col. David Grossman, of “On Killing” and “On Combat” has become quite renowned for his use of the sheepdog metaphor for those who “protect the public”…law-enforcement, military, martialists, security, men, etc. I’ve always thought this an immensely derogatory term as it assumes that the general public is filled with stupid, unthinking, incapable sheep and puppets, yet we see these same regular untrained people surviving violence with just the “technology” that evolution gave them…daily. It also puts us, the supposed “sheepdogs” on some self-important pedestal of superiority.  Regardless, let’s actually break down the real qualities of the actual sheepdog breed to see if we can understand further his correlation:

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Your friendly neighbohood watch-dog

“The Old English Sheepdog (or “Sheepie”)….can be quite the clown, and is demanding of attention. If left without companionship…he will become unhappy, destructive, and noisy.”

“They make sensible watchdogs with a deep, ringing bark, but they’re not guard dogs. In fact, there is timidity and skittishness in some lines, sharpness in others.”

“….since the vast majority of them are bred to be show dogs or pets, rather than working sheepdogs, their herding instincts are typically-diminished or absent.”

“…we’ve seen too many with neurotic behaviors, including hyperactivity, fearfulness, and aggression.”

So, in conclusion, I’d actually say Dave was entirely on to something from the people I’ve interacted with in-person and on the Interweb that are in-love with labeling themselves this term. From the above definitions, I’m actually starting to see his point, from talking to so many “sheepdogs” over the years. I’m just not sure he realized that he was ironically-correct, not actually-correct.

SOCIAL ADJUSTMENTS IN THE TIME OF CORONA

Well, with a term pandemic in full-swing and us owning a bed-and-breakfast that hosts foreigners from a vast array of foreign nations, I’ve used it as an opportunity to test the staunchly cultural social graces that often are taken for granted…and how to get-around and manipulate them. Handshakes, hugging, kissing, and physical-contact of any kind being non-recommended. As the fist-bump, forearm-press, and others have already been omnipresent in the media (and, t o me, can create awkwardness with those you don’t know or aren’t familiar with, I find) , I’m going to present s o me different options I’ve been experimenting with with success, some quite socially-acceptable, so me not as much, others maybe not at all, but, hey, my and my family’s health is more important to me at that point than formalities.

  • Making less and shorter eye-contact. Feigning a missed-handshake or hug can prevent an outright perceived slight. No-touch.
  • Angling the body. As direct squaring-off and eye-contact (especially between men) generally insinuates a firm-handshake is coming, angling the body away c o upled with the above break in eye-contact can cause hesitation and the mental perception that the opportunity to establish dominance or neutrality has passed o r was missed entirely. I’ve often been coupling these 2 with a smile and immediate turn-away to bring them to the registration area. When followed by small-talk, questions on their flight or time in the country usually quashes formalities and takes things to the next phase smoothly and subtly. No-touch.
  • Distance-control. In social situations I use what I call “active hands”, especially when a multitude or group of people are present. That way I have a buffer in-between myself and any one I’m not comfortable with or don’t know. I control space and distance. No-or-minimal-touch.
  • Immediately angling and going for the shoulder or elbow combined with a welcoming smile. Warm, welcoming and it entirely overruns the handshake entirely. Can be an invisible touch or light-touch but better to touch clothing than skin.
  • If there’s an advance with movement from distance, I’ve combined #4 with, upon physical-touching range, turning and walking with them in the direction they were heading. Works well in more open-spaces like the street, park, or mall. If they’re leading and stop, continuing conversation usually renders a handshake, hug, or kiss awkward or awkwardly-late. Light-or-no-touch.
  • When I don’t catch the handshake or hug on-time, I apologize warmly and feign having a slight cold or allergy and tell them I don’t want to have them start their holiday off sick. Especially with current events, I get zero argument or offense. Light-or-no-touch.
  • OR, there’s simply being direct. “In this time of insecurity heath-wise, it’s probably safer for both of us if we don’t shake hands/hug/kiss, I hope you understand…
  • Hey, even utilizing temporary body odor, sweat, or halitosis can keep people at-bay, if worse would comes to worse. Remember, we know little of this strain as of yet so it pays to be extremely cautious and some people simply don’t get it.

Another thing I’ve personally been doing when out in public (of a different safety variety) is making sure I have my sunglasses on as much as I can. The first known case here was apparently an American from New York who knowingly interacted with a known infected acquaintance but didn’t let it prevent him from travelling here, I’ve noticed some online resentment towards gringo, of which I’m generally lumped in with as a Canuck. While it’s pretty hard to “go grey” here, I can limit the exposure to my blue eyes, which give it away upon sight.

With men it’s often more difficult to avoid as the dominance game is instinctive in most men, especially those from Western countries. Even apart from that, I admit the handshake is almost reflexive to me and I’ve both erred and had to consciously strain to keep aware as it’s a politeness we’ve had ingrained since childhood, at least in my household. More than once my wife has reprimanded me for not only shaking hands but not even being coherent I’ve done so .

In closing, as I had to explain to one particularly casual guest, while it’s not an epidemic or total chaos at this point, and calm and rationality should be implemented instead of panicked frenzy, there are still some things we simply don’t know at this point. Whether it returns stronger a 2nd or 3rd time around, why it affects certain segments of the population and not others, and how it got to be so much more contagious than other strains. Plus, history is littered with epidemics that started off as familiar and seemingly known before wiping large segments of populations. So, while calm should take precedence and it may all turn out just fine, there’s a reason that grand-scale precautions are being taken.

CENTRAL AMERICAN METAPHYSICS

Costa Rican (and Central American and Latino, for that matter) culture is filled with fascinating superstition, taboos, legends, and metaphysical-beliefs. “La Masquerada” is an event once a year, usually in August, that pays tribute to these folkloric (and sometimes foreboding) characters that originated from a combination of local aboriginal culture and Spanish occupation. With the rural lower-class, they can still have significant belief attached to them. They are accepted as a bilateral cultural addition to the staunchly Catholic following. What’s fascinating to me is that many are a superstitious warning or deterrent to the very negative-but-real stereotypes associated with the culture itself. Infidelity to one’s wife, promiscuity, perpetual drinking and partying, antipathy or distance from religion, God, or family.

Some examples in the photos below:
1. El gigante/la giganta (the giant): Representing the rich Spanish occupants from generations past.

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2. El diablo (the devil) deceiptfully laying traps to make some stray from the path 3. La pelona: the skull-bearing representation of death
4. La segua: a lovetorn half-horse, half-woman siren that baits adulterous men and deters promiscuous women

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5. La llorona: the ghost of a woman whose lost love has caused her to be seen crying, wailing, and shrieking at riverbanks.
6. El cadejos: a young boy cursed to live as a dog for eternity by his own father for his unruly drinking ways
All are very expressive and folkloric and have their own independent cautionary tale.

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I’ve been thinking that there’s very likely no small coincidence that western foreigners ply their snakeoil, charlatanism, and fraudulence here manipulating and taking advantage of those very superstitions, taboos, and legends. Most often in the form of fraudulent yoga gurus, shamans, astrologers, cults, energy-channelers, and healers. If it’s not taking at home, go where it will, right…remember that belief is half the battle and placebos can become very real for the misleading shysters with financial gain on their mind. I’ve met many here over the years, they’re extremely easy to smell and tend to avoid people from “back home.”

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Note that I’ve studied and been curious about this aspect of Central American culture for years. I’ve attended a cult ceremony and gone through some of the rituals (saumerios, “cuarentenas”, invocations, etc.). Been to see a shaman. Attended a number of masqueradas. Learned about these supernatural urban legends. Interacted with a number of the people peddling mysticism and the metaphysical. Now, regardless of my views on the authenticity of any of it, I respect it as many people here do and to mock that which gets many through their day and the intrinsic beliefs of many locals, especially as a foreigner, would be disrespectful and invoking animosity and bad “karma.”

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That being said, there is a clear niche where peddler and receiver co-exist and a market is created. If a consumer feels that the product will increase their odds, add value to their life, give them power or protection, or give them greater spiritual-connectedness, is anyone really being swindled? Who has the right to say. As a Westerner living here, I find it far more beneficial and informative to understand the powers-that-be than mock them with my “1st-World” superiority. Remember, there’s nothing more powerful entity in life than belief and many an entitled foreigner’s fortunes have ended poorly here for misunderstanding their playing field.

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And, as a self-described student of human behavior, I find the “dark”, mystical, metaphysical aspect of a culture intriguing and more than a little revealing in understanding the reason people think the way they do. It’s a peek into their psyche and why they act the way they do. Dismissing or mocking that which isn’t personally believed or understood is always a tactical error. Knowledge of foreign belief-structures helps mitigate, prevent, disrupt, and foresee potential forks in the road. Brushing-off the potential to gain that knowledge can put a target on one’s back.