How Many Legs Does a Dog Have?

Abraham Lincoln once jokingly asked, “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?” His answer? “Four. Calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” Lincoln’s quote does a great job of humorously highlighting the human tendency to argue with our own reality. As a human being with dyslexia, I’ve often wished things were different. That I could read or write faster, with less effort. That I could remember sequences (directions, grocery lists, to-do-lists). That my brain’s “buffer” didn’t fill up so fast and require so much time to clear. I’d hazard a guess that I’m not the only one who sometimes wishes their reality was different. How about you? Anything in your life feeling like it shouldn’t be a certain way right now? Welcome to the human race! If you are a parent of a struggling reader, your feelings on behalf of your offspring can be particularly difficult and intense at times. No one wants to see their child be frustrated, to see them feel defeated by the learning process, to witness them feeling broken.

Photograph of a beagle.

But wishing things were different or feeling like things in our lives should or shouldn’t be a certain way is not the best use of our time and energy. In fact, those feelings are actually at the heart of human misery. How so? Let’s take a page out of Byron Katie’s classic book, Loving What Is. Katie states, “The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is.” Every time we argue with what is—with reality—we will suffer. Katie likens dwelling on the desire for our reality to be different to be just as fruitful a use of precious time and energy as trying to teach a cat to bark! Her observation about her own life is summed up in this pithy quote, “When I argue with reality I lose—but only 100% of the time.” For you, for me, for our respective families, what is happening is what is happening. It is my reality, and yours, our respective life stories. The way to make a difference in our outlook is based on how we choose to narrate that story. The good news is we can learn to become better narrators.

Katie opines, “Every story is a variation on a single theme: This shouldn’t be happening. I shouldn’t be having this experience. God is unjust. Life is unfair.” What this (non)coping technique boils down to, in essence, is that humans tend to believe that the only way we can have peace or be happy is when everything in life is perfect—no struggles, zero frustrations, no traffic, no computer/internet glitches, and above all else, nobody being “stupid” around us. Is that cat barking yet? Didn’t think so.

White text against clouds reading, "You can't change the truth, but the truth can change you."

The thought-provoking question that comes next in this powerful book really spotlights the positive impact of changing our belief. “Who would I be if I didn’t believe this lie?” Katie calls these skewed beliefs “lies” because they are at odds with reality, or in effect, these beliefs are lying to us. Katie invites readers to slow down whenever they feel stressed and notice that the root of their suffering is that they are projecting their story of what should be onto the reality of what is.

If you’d like to see what it feels like to turn this suffering around, consider the process Katie calls The Work. The Work is the following rhyme: “Judge your neighbor, write it down, ask four questions, turn it around.” What are the four questions?

  • Is it true?
  • Can I absolutely know that it is true?
  • How do I react when I think that thought?
  • Who would I be without that thought?

And then, turn it around.

A man changes his outlook by peeling away a storm gray sky to reveal a blue sky behind it. He is taking control of his outlook on his reality, as is recommended by Byron Katie in the book Loving What Is.

Let’s try one together. Let’s say, for example, that I’m frustrated about my child’s school situation.

“This teacher is a complete jerk! She never does what she says she’s going to do, and it makes things even harder for my kid!”

  • Is it true that the teacher is a complete jerk? Yes! She’s frustrating the living daylights outta me!
  • Can I absolutely know that it’s true? Well, no, if I’m being fair, she has made herself available for meetings and brainstorming sessions. And she answers my emails.
  • How do I react when I think that thought? It makes me angry. I also feel afraid that my child won’t ever get what he needs, and therefore doesn’t have as much chance to meet his potential and be successful. When I think like that, I’m not pleasant to be around, and the fallout affects the whole family, and even my relationship with the teacher.
  • Who would I be without that thought? I would have more peace and focus instead of coming up with a plan for things I can do at home to help support my child through his struggle. I would also be better able to communicate with the school system so we can all be on the same page.

See how that turns a difficult situation around? Now I can focus on taking positive actions that will actually improve the situation, rather than just being frustrated that I have to deal with someone who doesn’t live up to my expectations. When I accept and embrace my own reality, I am free to move forward to whatever comes next. And as we master this skill as adults, we can model it for the next generation. Could anything be more helpful to a child who is a struggling reader than learning to accept where they are at the moment, and then move boldly forward to what comes next? Sounds like a great plan to me.

Cardboard Box Adventures Picture Books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong pre-literacy foundation for their children. Check out the new CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators.