Lessons in Grace – The Idealists vs the Realists

For several months I’ve been pondering a post on the tensions that flare up between people who agree on the ends but not the means of achieving social progress.

Idealists battling realists

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

I’ve been thinking about Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. And about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and resistance members who outwardly complied with the government while subverting it in private. And I’ve been thinking about Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire as opposed to people who sign a petition or march.

I know, it’s pretty heady stuff for a post that was intended to reflect on disagreements that crop up in animal welfare circles.

But I think it raises some instructive issues.

Idealists and realists in blog world

Thursday night, I saw that Mel Freer of No Dog About It had a new post. She expressed her concerns about the business of one of the BlogPaws speakers. I’m not going to paraphrase Mel’s work. Read it for yourself.

I glanced quickly at the post and decided to look into it a little more the next day so I could respond to her. My initial thought was to send a private email to Mel offering to help her craft a diplomatic letter to the BlogPaws organizers in hopes they could address her concerns.

By the time I got home from work, our little corner of blogville had become a fecal tempest (or a sh*t storm for those who prefer alliteration) with hurt feelings and criticisms going in several directions.

So I’m going to try introduce some light to a discussion that’s generated an awful lot of heat. And I’m going to do it by dusting off my history degree.

How idealists create change

The idealist focuses on the evil at hand. They are single-minded in their pursuit of of what’s right. They see no reason to compromise because that would mean the wrongs of the world will continue even longer.

Frederick Douglass was an idealist. He corresponded passionately with Abraham Lincoln advocating for the immediate end of slavery.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an idealist too. Despite being a Christian minister, Bonhoeffer conspired to assassinate Hitler. To end one evil, Bonhoeffer was willing to kill.

Idealists are important. Their single-mindedness, passion, and commitment put them at the vanguard of change.

But that’s a tough place to be.

Idealists intimidate realists. Idealists find themselves in the midst of controversies. And they don’t always understand why they upset people when they’re only standing up for what they know is right.

How realists create change

The realist concentrates on moving things along. They focus on the big picture. Slow and steady is their motto.

Abraham Lincoln - Library of Congress

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was a realist. Yes, slavery was wrong. But ending it immediately at the cost of the Union was something he would never do.

Idealists call realists compromisers or accommodators. They feel realists are too patient and don’t confront wrong everywhere they see it. And faced with the judgment, realists can become defensive and feel they’re under attack.

Idealists and realists play out in blogville

Mel Freer was given a gift by her dog Daisy. From Daisy, Mel saw firsthand the devastating effect on a dog born and raised in a puppy mill. Daisy’s gift has made Mel a passionate, thoughtful, and fervent opponent of puppy mills. She has written poignantly about the demands of a puppy mill dog.

Based on my observation of Mel through her blog, I’d call her an idealist (at least on the issue of irresponsible breeding).

I don’t personally know the BlogPaws founders, Yvonne DiVita, Tom Collins, and Caroline Golon. But I’ve written favorably about my experience at BlogPaws several times. BlogPaws has equipped many pet bloggers with new tools to promote the welfare of our companion animals.

I’m going to be cheeky here and call the BlogPaws team realists.

Lessons in grace for idealists and realists

I’d like to humbly suggest a few rules of engagement so our idealists and realists can put their efforts into battling people who purposely hurt the causes of animals instead of each other:

  • Start by assuming each person is operating from good motives instead of bad ones. If you are absolutely proven wrong, you can change your mind later.
  • Expect people will make mistakes and be willing to forgive them and yourself.
  • Try to imagine how your words will sound to someone else.
  • Don’t be afraid to apologize.
  • Spend more time disagreeing in private than in public.
  • Keep in mind, we all get a little crazy when our feelings are hurt.
  • Idealists, remember that realists aren’t focused 100% on one particular wrong. But it’s worth using every ounce of diplomacy you have to persuade them to your way because their incremental actions can push the cause forward too.
  • Realists, remember that idealists are not your enemy. Leaning on them will help you protect your integrity. It’s worth tamping down your defensiveness to hear what they have to say.

Idealists and realists – making it personal

I’ve tended toward idealism in my life. For example, I hate the idea that most of the objects I use each day are made by people unprotected by labor laws. I buy all my clothing used or from sources whose factories are not filled with children or women facing unsafe conditions for only pennies a day.

But if I avoided every product made in China or Vietnam or other places where labor practices are atrocious, I would not be typing on my computer right now.

As I observe the community of animal lovers who read Something Wagging, I see that we focus on some things more strongly than others. I fully expected lots of criticism for adopting Honey from a responsible, hobby breeder instead of adopting another dog from a shelter or rescue. But people have been very kind to me in that regard.

And at BlogPaws, I was surprised to see how people who devote many hours of their personal and professional time to defending the lives of animals saw no connection to the raising of animals on factory farms. Very few of the attendees were vegetarians or vegans. And although a flexitarian, I chose the vegetarian/vegan option for my BlogPaws meals but I still ate the cheesecake.

Mel is right to point out that a BlogPaws speaker designs websites for puppy brokers. It doesn’t matter if Mel can trace the lineage of every puppy offered for sale or if she’s visited the businesses where the puppies are being bred.

The websites Michael Ayalon designs for puppy sellers bear no resemblance to those of responsible breeders which have long contracts spelling out how their puppies must be treated and raised, a proud description of the parentage of their puppies, and questionnaires that make it clear that you’re probably not good enough to get a puppy so examine yourself long and hard before you even try.

I believe Michael Ayalon was a poor choice of speaker for BlogPaws and I suspect that the BlogPaws organizers, when they get past their sense of hurt and betrayal, will agree. Mel was right in her criticism. And she doesn’t deserve to have her integrity questioned.

And while I adore Mel and consider her a friend, I read her post knowing it would put the BlogPaws organizers on the defensive.

We also have to remember that BlogPaws is not just a hobby. For its organizers, it is a part of their livelihood. And that puts tremendous pressure on them. The conference is only three years old and they are still feeling their way. I believe the BlogPaws organizers need kind counsel from their participants and hope they will learn to accept well-intentioned criticism with grace.

I do know that I feel very sad to see the amount of hurt that’s floating around my corner of blogland right now. It’s the community I love and that has been disrupted.

Shadow - mixed breed dog

The reason for all our passion - protecting animals.

I hope that Mel will continue to speak with passion and commitment about her desire to end the indiscriminate breeding of puppies. And I hope the BlogPaws organizers can continue to share resources that will help animal lovers gain new skills to share and promote the responsible treatment of animals.

We all need each other. So I hope we can share some grace with each other, move past the disappointments and hurt feelings, and find a way for our idealists and the realists to share their strengths with each other for the love of animals.

One last lesson from history

You’ll see plenty examples of evil in the course of history. But you’ll also see progress. Slavery ended and the Union did not dissolve. Hitler was stopped.

Many people are harmed and killed when evil is at its most powerful. But its power doesn’t last forever.

Although it’s easy to get discouraged when you read about Breed Discriminatory Legislation or high-kill shelters or puppy mills, we have to remember that we’ve made tremendous progress in protecting the rights of animals. Even if we have a long way to go.

Right will win out. We need to give it room to flourish.

Do you agree that we need to work together when we agree on the ends if not the means? If so, can you write a message of encouragement in the comments that will promote healing for the people who have been directly hurt in this argument?


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  1. I can relate. To be honest I’ve been clueless in regard to the BlogPaws controversy (but then I am a new member). But I see it in people who think that animals’ lives should be saved at all cost. I accept where they are coming from but I am a realist and I don’t see how on earth we’re going to accomplish this when we literally have MILLIONS of unwanted animals surrendered each year. So I promote spay/neuter, ending indiscriminate breeding and puppy mill operations. And I tick them off. Of course, they tick me off too. But I do try to remember what you said- we have the same end goal in mind.

  2. I agree with much of your assessment of the situation. I don’t think anyone was intentionally trying to do the wrong thing. I wish BlogPaws had been a bit more professional in their response, both on their site and on the “Will My Dog Hate Me” site in the comments section in response to her post. While I’m certain they felt hurt by what they read, if they are trying to build a community based on helping people be better bloggers, they should walk the walk, even when it hurts to do so. If BlogPaws had responded by stating their dismay with her post and their desire to look more fully into her allegations and take her concerns to heart for next year’s conference, I think much of the current mess could have been avoided. I can only hope that perhaps after some time for reflection that the BlogPaws folks will put up a more professional response, one that might help calm things down.

  3. Everyone involved needs to read this post, Pamela. And think about your message. It’s all very well to ‘take sides’, but this fiasco needs to be mended before more damage is done.

  4. It hurts me to see friends fighting with friends, especially when we all really care about the same thing – the well being of animals. I think feelings have been hurt on both sides, and it is time for someone to step in and tell everyone to take a deep breath. Your post does that for us all. Thank you!

  5. Thank you for the kind words so far. Just a reminder to everyone to be very gentle in their comments. I believe comments escalate the tensions when people disagree online.

    If we really want our friends in the blogging community who have been hurt in this disagreement to be able to put this behind them, we need to tread lightly.

    If I see any comments here that could escalate tensions, I will turn off comments. So please, be as kind as you can possibly be.

    Just to encourage us a little, here’s some positive news:

    78% of dogs in homes are spayed & neutered; 88% of cats in homes are!!

  6. Thank you for calling for cooler heads. As I watch this war fly across Twitter, I don’t want anyone to be caught in the crossfire.

    Pam & Oskar

  7. Susan Getgood says:

    great post, you give both sides their due, and show where they have commonality.

    Hopefully that commonality will provide a base for moving forward.

  8. What a wonderful post Pamela. You’re diplomatic approach and cool temper brings a lot to the table in a disagreement like this. I’ll admit that reading the posts from the organizers did put me off – not because they defended their position, but because of *how* they defended it. For my part, I think I’ll hold off on booking my ticket to Salt Lake until more info about speakers and location are revealed.

  9. Pamela,
    You dear, dear woman. I cannot thank you enough for this post. I have a quirky personality treat where most times I can see both sides of any given situation. I have been reading both blogs beginning last evening and all through today and was struggling within myself to determine the best way to address the situation without stirring the pot even more.

    I think you did this beautifully.

    I think olive branches have been extended by both Mel and Blog Paws today and hope the healing has begun, so we can all once again put our focus on those who cannot speak for themselves.

    Once again, I thank you (if I may be so bold as to call you) my friend.

  10. All I can say Pamela is thank you and amen. As I said to you this morning, you wrote so beautifully. I wholeheartedly put aside the words that have been said and the feelings that have been hurt and say let’s move forward together.

    Thank you my friend for being one to bring us all up a notch and not a step down.

  11. Pamela, I think you should start negotiating world peace. I think you’ve found a new calling.

  12. Thank you so much for this calm and thoughtful post. It has been very disconcerting as a new blogger to watch this all play out. I am grateful to see someone step out of the tempest and try to bring some kindness back into the conversation. Thank you.

  13. Well put. Words I will try to remember, too, for when I find myself in conflict. Bravo!

  14. I feel like I’ve been living under a rock and then fell down a rabbit hole. I hadn’t read either of the posts before I came here and then I’ve spent the last hour or so reading through all of it. I didn’t take Mel’s post as an attack, but I can tell that Blogpaws did. I guess my general impression is that I think Blogpaws should have taken the higher road as a professional organization. I’m glad to see that apologies have been made all around, but there are still a lot of words out there that can never be taken back. I hope that a lessons have been learned by a lot of people over the whole fiasco.

  15. From the foul taste of foot in mouth we go to whirled peas. Thank you, Pamela. Well done.

  16. Hi Pamela,
    As we said in our email to you before you posted this, and in our post, THANK YOU. I’m going to print your post out, keep it on my desk, and try to live better from it.
    I do have two small “historical” corrections that may or may not make a difference to how everyone views all this, but I think had a substantial role the underlying events:
    – BlogPaws is less than two years old, not three.
    – the 3 conferences so far were held over a period of just over 16 months.
    Is one of the lessons “speed kills”? ;-D

  17. I think this post should be required reading for all bloggers. :) Well done!

  18. This is definitely a “Lesson in Grace.”
    And they told you your major in history wouldn’t have any value in the real world. :>)

  19. The animal welfare world is one full of factions, unfortunately. It has frequently pained me in the past to learn that two groups, working toward the exact same goal, can be at such violent odds. It should be all about the animals. But so often we humans get ourselves distracted by things that only serve to hurt us all. While I have my own opinions, voicing them now, after everything, will do no good. I am glad I waited instead of writing something I would regret yesterday morning. The last thing the animal world needs is more humans at odds. We are all on the same side here, right?

  20. I tend to be an idealist, I think it’s because I am so emotional and sometimes my emotions get the best of me. It seems like I have been getting lots of lessons lately in not being too quick to judge :) Thank you for you level headed post and your wonderful perspective. I hope everyone is able to forgive, forget, and move ahead together.

  21. Hi Y’all,

    ‘Nuff said. Well said. I don’t like to see my friends in Blogville growling at each other.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  22. What a fantastic post! I think, in a very even handed way, you laid out the issue and addressed it, and that sort of thing is certainly needed!

  23. Very well said, in all respects!

    I am an idealist by birth who’s developing a realist side because I have to. As an idealist, I’m likely to get myself into untenable patterns of thinking, acting and reacting that don’t always serve the goals I’d like to see met. I’ve too often been guilty of fixating on the ends and not the means, more than a few times to my own detriment.

    As a blogger, I’ve been called out by some die-hard realists, and they have made me think, which I appreciate. I might not have appreciated it at the time, but in retrospect I can see where extremes of any kind must be tempered.

    Your point about there being so few vegans/vegetarians at BlogPaws is thought provoking and valid. I struggle all the time with knowing how much time, heart and energy I put into advocating for a select (comparatively) few animals, while all the time in the back of my mind I think about the millions of factory farmed animals living obscenely short, miserable lives and worse deaths.

    Much food for thought (no pun intended).

  24. This is a beautiful post… you have a wonderful way with words and really distilled this situation down to some key points. We all do tend to act pretty crazy when our feelings are hurt – it’s so easy to go on the defensive. I know it’s happened to me in many situations and your post is a good reminder that sometimes we all need to stop, breathe, and think about where the other person is coming from. Very well said.

  25. Happy Birthday! May this be the beginning of the best year so far!


  1. […] I leave you with the one person who always seems to see the bigger picture, and who’s wisdom I respect a great deal, Pamela Webster, and her beautifully written blog post “Lessons in Grace – The Idealists vs the Realists” […]