A while ago, I received an email from a reader who took issue with my opinion re: Jean Donaldson’s teaching her dog Buffy to hump her leg on command. I have received many emails on that one, to be sure, with some people practically jumping up and down in their defense of Jean’s choice, others thanking me for speaking out. It surely touched a nerve, and I still can’t help thinking that if it had been a different trainer, and it had been a man or a male dog, folks might have had a very different response.
But this one particular email stuck with me because it had such a disturbing notion within it. After telling me they used to be a big fan of my work, the author wrote:
“Once you have contributed as much to dog training as Ms Donaldson has, then you can be as critical and judgmental as you are.“
That is quite an interesting thought. At what level of experience, expertise, “contribution” or “is one entitled to note that the Emperor has an interesting wardrobe?” If I remember the story correctly, it was indeed a child who pointed out what the adults refused to see: the Emperor was naked. Not a wardrobe expert.
This world would be a very sad place — indeed, it often is a very sad place — if the only ones who could speak up and say, “I think this is wrong” were ones who somehow earned the right to do so by contributing “enough.”
Stanley Milgram’s work on our obedience to authority comes to mind. When someone in authority says X, Y or Z, a large percentage of the population will accept directions from that person, even to the point of committing appalling acts. There is a smaller percentage who says, “No.” Not based on having equal authority, which is what the author of the email implies I needed to make my comments, but based on an internal compass.
When we set the actions of some as beyond reproach by anyone but their superiors or peers (and I consider myself neither with regards to Jean), the Emperor is set free to make some very poor wardrobe choices and not be held accountable. That never will work for me. But that’s me. Your mileage may vary.