Speaking for those who cannot give voice to their own thoughts and feelings is risky business. We advocate for others speaking of our own thoughts and feelings which are not necessarily the same as those for whom we advocate.
The recent case of Patrick, a dog who was starved close to death and then thrown into the garbage while still alive has resulted in a spate of advocacy both good and bad, and has really brought this point home to me.
Being a person of strong emotions and opinions, it’s very easy for me to be seduced by an idea or emotion. The stronger my feelings on the subject the more I tend to have blinders on when speaking of it. In fact I often make myself write out arguments against my own position just to temper my feelings. I am not always successful in the attempt, but I am becoming more successful in making the attempt.
In a recent TED Talk, Kathryn Schulz spoke on being wrong. She said being wrong feels exactly like being right, it’s only after we realize we’re wrong that we feel all the other emotions associated with being wrong.
In her talk, she spoke of the assumptions we make when trying to reconcile why someone has an opinion different from our own.
The first assumption was ignorance. A person who doesn’t believe as we do is ignorant of the facts.
The second assumption was one of stupidity. We assume that a person who possesses the same facts we do but draws a different conclusion is not intelligent.
The third assumption is one of evil. If the person is in possession of the same facts and we accept them as intelligent, then the only explanation for our differences is to assume nefarious intent.
In advocating for Patrick I’ve seen people propose violence against the person accused of harming him. I must admit to a similar gut reaction. But in whose voice are we speaking? Whose justice are we seeking? Is it justice for Patrick and others like him that we advocate for— or justice for our own sense of outrage?
Would Patrick want us to harm in kind, the person who harmed him; or, find out why this person would hold his life in such little regard in order to prevent them and others from repeating those acts.
I use the word “acts” purposefully here. We have all committed acts of neglect. That doesn’t mean we are neglectful people. We have all held anger and even violence in our hearts, and maybe even acted upon them. Does it necessarily make us angry and violent people?
Along with most of you, I condemn the acts of abuse that Patrick had to suffer. If found guilty, I want to see this person held responsible for their acts.I want to see stiffer penalties for those who are found guilty of crimes against animals. But most of all, I want to understand what has happened in people’s lives that would allow them to treat any animal this way. What I won’t do, is call for violence against someone about whom I know little, other than the actions they are accused of and absent knowing why they choose those actions.
If we’re going to speak for Patrick, let’s do it with a voice reflective of his interests, not our own. Harming this person is not going to help Patrick in any way, shape, or form. Educating people about the humane care of animals and working to understand why the abuse happens in the first place, is one way in which we can truly say that we speak with Patrick’s voice.