Sunday, June 12, 2016

Did That Come Off Wrong?

As zoo professionals, many of us (all of us?) have dealt with our share of animal rights extremeist questions.  I could probably write a Russian novel-length blog about AR extremeism, using real-life examples from my own career path.  And it'd all probably be stuff you've heard before.

Comrades in the service industry, unite!

But! I had a different thought the other day.  Within a two-day period, I got some variation of the question, "Is this [habitat] the only place the dolphins have to swim?" like 6 times.  And it wasn't asked in a curious way, but instead in an accusatory, borderline disgusted way. 

Uh, yeah.

Before I get too into this topic, I feel it's worthwhile to listen to people on "opposing" sides.  I'm not really into the idea of being lumped into a group.  Unless that group is eating donuts.  BUT.  I think as animal care professionals, we should always be looking for ways to improve the standards of care we provide our animals.  So sometimes, the animal rights people (the non-extremeists) raise interesting points, or ones that are worth considering.          

But I'm talking about the super rude, super uneducated, super LET ME YELL AT YOU WITHOUT OFFERING ANY CONSTRUCTIVE SOLUTIONS kind of statements/questions. 

Humans seem to love to "punish" other humans they deem as wrong or misguided.  They do so by using rude, inflammatory language loaded with lots of yucky emotion. I admit, it's hard when you're really passionate about something to calm down and think about a better way of communicating your viewpoint (or, in many cases, calm down enough to actively listen to the other "side").

Side note: I'm concerned that someone took the time to snap a photo of this

However, I think I've discovered a Checks-and-Balances method to help us all (no matter what our opinions are) know if what we're saying is okay, or if it's just ridiculously rude and unproductive.

When you're ready to explode, or "educate" with a healthy dosage of snark (Snarducate?), ask yourself this question:

"If I asked this question in a boring, everyday context, would people think I was a total a*#hole?"

Here are some examples to help you understand what I'm talking about.

1. "Is This The Entire Habitat For These Animals?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!? Do you think this is enough space, like really? Really??"


Imagine your best friend is coming over to your one bedroom apartment.  She told you you've just GOT to meet her new roommate, who is really cool, smart, and funny.  You decide it'll be great to have the two of them hang out at your place.  When you hear a knock on the door, this is what ensues:

You: Hey guys! Come on in!

Best Friend: Thanks! Hey this is my friend Cool Roommate

Cool Roommate: Um, is this seriously where you live?

You: Uh, yes?

Cool Roommate: Wow.  Like, this is it? You don't have any more space? It is way too small for humans.  We are going to be so cramped in here.  If we don't get along, there will be no place for me to get away from you without being really rude.  Plus, our species evolved in open spaces; we are made to walk or jog for miles a day.  You can barely take three steps before you reach the opposite end of the living room.  So really, you really think this is an appropriate living space?

You: *cries*

See? If the question you ask would be horribly rude in a human context, rephrase your question.

This is not just a tiny studio apartment.  This is a BALLER (and tiny) studio apartment.

Suggestions for alternate questions:
- What are the spatial requirements for [insert species name here]
- The animals seem happy and healthy, but are there plans to make a larger/more naturalistic habitat?  How does a zoo go about doing that?

You don't have to agree with habitat structure or size, and it's always worth discussing how to better improve exhibit design.  But no one gains anything from head-bashing.

2. "I Feel Bad For Those Dolphins Having To Eat Dead Fish"


This is trickier, because humans can be totally snobby about food (but you still sound like a jerk doing it, no matter how perfect you believe your eating habits are).

Imagine you're at a restaurant, eating a sandwich....

Rude Stranger: Oh wow, I feel really bad for you.

You: Why?

Rude Stranger: You're eating a sandwich made from ingredients you didn't grow and harvest yourself.  Thousands of years ago, you would've had to make your own bread, grow your own vegetables and greens.  Your true nature would've been expressed.  This is so sad, seeing you eat that sandwich.  I bet that bread even has gluten in it.  Is it because you don't care about your health? Or because you're lazy?

You: *cries*

Guess I'll just start eating chipmunks or other wild foods

C'mon.  Truly reputable zoological institutions research appropriate food for the animals in their care.  It's an evolving science, but a science nonetheless.  Many of us have given up our natural tendency to hunt our own food.  We eat Twinkies, so....

Suggestions for alternate questions:
- What do these animals eat in the wild?
- What species of fish/types of food do you feed these dolphins here? Why did you choose them?

3. "You're Doing Something Different?  What You're Really Saying Is That We SUCK."

Not exactly.

This is something that we in the zoo community are guilty of asking each other, when someone chooses to go out on a limb to do something different. (I can't only poke fun at AR extremists.  It's good for us to turn our eye inwards sometimes!)

I know this makes us all a little uncomfortable, or even mad.  But it's smart of us to face our changing field with an open-mind, educated opinions, and a clear, kind way of communicating our ideas, questions, and concerns. 

I feel that the aforementioned subject head is a variation on a common theme I've observed (and even felt, at times) in our community.  We feel we are under attack, we are standing up for our practices and standards of if we go ahead and do something different, doesn't that mean we're insinuating that what we had been doing previously was wrong?

No!! Don't be offended! I come in peace!

But let's look at this through the boring, everyday context.

You're hanging out with a good friend when someone you both knew ten years ago walks past you.  This person isn't on Facebook, and when you both first see her you immediately notice her hair and personal style are drastically different than you last remember.  She looks good, even though the look is really unusual.   You and your friend start talking:

You: OH MY GOD!!! Did you see her? We haven't seen her in like 10 years!

Friend: I know!  Did you see her hair? What was she thinking? 

You:   I don't know, but I think it looks fabulous on her. I think that's a really great style.

Friend: Seriously? So what, the rest of us who dress normally have bad style?

You:, I meant -

BFF:  Because if you like my her look now, that means you don't like mine

You: Wait, no I -

BFF: Whatever, I always knew you were a jerk.

I'll drink to that

There are so many wonderful ways to do things, and so many ways we can all improve.  There is no reason to automatically take it personally.  So what if someone is letting their elephants roam around their zoo at night, and your zoo isn't?  So what if an aquarium isn't doing shows, and your aquarium is?  As long as we are all striving to provide the best care for animals, and we are always looking to do better and better and better (which, remember, doesn't mean you're doing badly), that's what matters.

Suggestions for alternate questions:
- Wow, what an innovative idea.  What are the core concepts of this project?
- What inspired this idea?

You can apply all sorts of questions to this concept.  This is especially difficult when we communicate through social media, because we aren't face-to-face.  But still, whether you're saying it or typing it, if you think you'd look like a giant D-bag if the question were in a human to human context, reconsider. We animal lovers accomplish amazing things when we work together and make calm, educated commentary.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting topic to write about. Very timely. I am curious on your thoughts on how to respond to those accusatory questions.