Well Enough, Sleeping Dogs

I’m thinking about the phrase “let sleeping dogs lie,” and it is difficult for reasons beyond the always confusing lay/lie grammar problem. I think it’s fair to assert this saying is similar to “leave well enough alone,” although they may not mean exactly the same thing. Suffice it to say I am good at neither, and am wondering how disastrous an issue this might be.

There are certainly situations in relationships where we should ‘let sleeping dogs lie,’ but I’m doubtful as to how many. As a nerd, no small measure of my time is spent picking apart the meanings behind what in some cases turn out to be meaningless things. So, forgive me if this is one of those cases. It seems that way at first, before the nerdiness kicks in… The idea of letting a sleeping dog lie is obvious: when a dog is asleep, why wake him up? He might get ticked and even if he doesn’t, waking him up seems kind of mean. Hence the saying.

What about certain exceptions? Say, for instance, the dog is sleeping in the street. Shouldn’t you wake him up and save him from being hit? Pardon this digression, but the very thought of that is almost enough for me to scrap this entire entry. If I hadn’t hated Grapes of Wrath already, the dog scene would have certainly done the trick. But anyway, it’s a completely rhetorical question – most people love dogs, and even if you don’t you’d have to be pretty screwed up to leave a dog sleeping on the road.

And the saying is broken, easy as that. As is the case with sayings, it would be sort of useless as the extended “let sleeping dogs lie, unless they appear to be in danger of imminent physical harm.” Instead we say the short version too often, and then I think of it at 3:00 in the morning and have to wonder whether it’s any good. Sleeping dogs are best left lying (laying? lai-ying?) when lying’s best, but should be woken up when waking would prevent damage. Similarly, a sleeping dog that is known to be nasty should probably be chased away instead of being left to catch you off guard and gnaw your arm someday.

Some things we should leave lying, take as they are. Which things? This is why “leave well enough alone” is a more encompassing and more confusing phrase. What is ‘well enough?’ And what if leaving it alone drives you crazy? Situations in relationships too often fall under ‘well enough’ terms and too rarely are straightforward or dog-like. Which arguments, events, and feelings should be dealt with, and which should be left alone?

That, I guess, is this morning’s million dollar question. Oftentimes we push real problems and disagreements out of our minds because dealing with them would be hard; I’ve sort of learned not to ignore things that need to be discussed. My definition of ‘well enough’ is awfully stringent, and maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. What is a bad thing is my tendency to not only wake up sleeping dogs, but to kick them. A big sleeping dog is trouble when it’s an important point of contention in a relationship, but even little dogs will hurt things when punted.

A new commandment I give to you,
that you love one another;
even as I have loved you,
that you also love one another.

[John 13:34]

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