A Little Happier: Remember the Dog That Doesn’t Bark

You’ve probably heard of the character of Sherlock Holmes, the famous fictional detective who’s known for his eccentricity and his brilliance in observation and deduction.

I’ve always been particularly struck by the way that Sherlock Holmes solved the crime described in the 1892 short story “The Adventure of Silver Blaze.” This story is one of the fifty-six stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and one of his most popular.

(Spoiler alert: I’m going to give away one of the important clues that Sherlock Holmes discovers, so if you want to read the story yourself, you can read it here.

The story is about the disappearance of a famous race horse, called “Silver Blaze” (which is why the story has that title) and the apparent murder of his trainer.

The story features one of Sherlock Holmes’s most remarkable insights.

Holmes is investigating the crime, and when a Scotland Yard detective asks him, “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” Holmes replies, “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

The detective responds. “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes points out, “That was the curious incident.”

The dog didn’t bark, even though you’d expect a dog to bark while a horse is being stolen. So the fact that the dog didn’t bark made Holmes conclude that the midnight thief was someone the dog knew well.

I think often of this story, and of the insight about the dog that doesn’t bark.

It reminds me that sometimes, we have to look for what’s not there, for what’s missing, for what’s absent, what’s going unsaid.

Perhaps the most important phone call is one that we don’t get.

In particular, in everyday life, often we should be most grateful for the things that never happen at all. You get a medical report that comes back “negative,” or an incident at school that blows over. I find it all too easy to forget to be grateful for the things that don’t happen.

I try to remember to consider the dog that doesn’t bark.

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