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
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 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.
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?