Dominance vs. Vulnerability

JoAnna Bennett

JoAnna Bennett, O’Brien Communications Group

9 January 2020

Is dominance the way? My six pets consist of dogs and chickens, and their behaviors seem to demonstrate one thing to me: I’d rather be vulnerable than dominant. Dominance takes a lot of work.

An Aggressive Dog Walks Into the Park …

No, this isn’t the start of a good joke. It’s a story I’ve seen play out on more than one occasion. We’re at the dog park and my two canines are enjoying themselves – playing catch, sniffing other dogs’ butts, and digging holes. Then the aggressive dog walks in. If you’ve ever been in this situation, you likely got a knot in the pit of your stomach while reading that sentence.

The owner releases the out-of-control beast, and the rest of the dogs are on high alert. A handful of submissive dogs are likely to lie down when this terror walks by. Some bark, and others run to their owners in order to be protected from the threat. This is usually my cue to leave. When you have a 180-pound Great Dane, even a small tussle can cause serious damage to another dog. So, we promptly head home.

My dogs are quite the odd couple, Crush is the Great Dane and Tar is a 17-pound Boston Terrier/Chihuahua mix. When we arrive at home, Tar barks, growls, and shows Crush who the boss is before he can get out of the car. Tar must enter the house first, and he also must get the first cookie. If not, he will bark and frighten Crush who will drop his cookie on the floor to – you guessed it – the 17-pounder. Despite the size difference, Tar is the dominant dog. But his lifestyle is also more anxious and emotionally demanding. While Crush may fear a backlash from his older yet smaller brother, he enjoys his naps and leisurely strolls more than his highly reactive sibling. And though I’m not sure he knows it, if it came down to it, Crush would win a fight.

The Bossy Hen

The head hen in the brood is also rather dominant. You’ll see her pick on the other members of the brood, always get first dibs on the snacks, and begin to take on some masculine traits. I’ve never had a hen crow like a rooster on my watch, but I have heard it’s possible. When I sit back and watch the girls, I’d rather not be the one constantly picking on everyone else to prove her dominance in the pecking order. That type of pressure has got to take a toll on ya. Can’t a girl eat some bugs and grass in peace?

Being vulnerable may have gotten me into several situations I’d rather not have been in. But I’m sure being dominant can have the same effect. I’d rather be susceptible to harm than be an agent of harm to others. You’ll learn and grow more when you’re vulnerable. If you’re dominant, you can’t let go of the preoccupation of having to be right and to always be two steps ahead. Just thinking about all that work seems exhausting. As Brené Brown says,

Vulnerability is not weakness. I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives.

I’d rather fuel my life with a little uncertainty. It’s better than burning out over illusions of control.