Role – How a dog can ‘develop’ human

(Source: New Yorker Cartoon)

I reflected on the concept of ROLE in the last post – Why me again fixing the Wifi?   I come across recently an unusual example in putting this angle of seeing things in use.

Since we started to keep a dog at home, my youngest one somehow has changed to become more independent.   He was more willing (and sometimes even proactive) to take risk in groups.  I started to ponder how keeping a dog may have contributed to the change?   (well… without ruling out the possibility that they are just 2 un-related incidents)   One common explanation is that a person will grow more mature by being given additional responsibility.

There is another angle which is about ROLE.   The youngest kid in a family usually take up the role of ‘Patient’ or ‘Dependent’ i.e. meant to be taken care of.   On intra-personal level, the ‘Care-giver’ has his / her own dose of superiority by helping.  The ‘Patient’ has his / her own in ‘making’ the former help, and enjoy the affection given.  On the group level, the ‘Care-giver vs Patient’ pattern of exchange gives the family (as a group) a sense of familiarity and thus psychological comfort.  All would be happy to stay in such dynamics.

The arrival of a dog (especially a puppy in our case!) disturbed the role configuration.  It took up the role of ‘Patient’, and the previous ‘Patient’ (as previously contracted in our case) shifted to the role of ‘Care-giver’.   Interestingly, it seems helpful for all:

  • For our youngest, the change unlocked him from the ‘Patient’ role.   This seems to fit well his developmental need given his age;
  • For the others, we can continue our sense of superiority with the new ‘Patient’;
  • For the dog, it is ok for it to take up (and stay with) the ‘Patient’ role.

So, what is the lesson for team / individual development?

Recognize what role configurations are at play (almost never just one configuration stably at play in a group).   When we realise one being locked into certain role which is not useful to own development or group effectiveness, consider the possibility of introducing a new member.  This may break the group pattern whilst the new member may benefit in taking over the role.   For example, hiring interns to release an existing member from the ‘Patient’ role.  At the same time, the interns can benefit from being ‘helped’ and perhaps form a talent pool in the long term.

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