Owning your words and owning your actions is an important part of being a principled person. Like most people, I haven’t always been successful at that. I’ve done the wrong things, said the wrong things and along the way, I also indulged in more than a few moments of hypocrisy. As I get older, that’s one of the things I’ve worked to change. I guess it’s easier now because I really don’t have to give a fuck what people think about me – I just care what I think about myself.
There’s a big difference, though, between owning your actions and standing by them, no matter what. Whether it’s the internet or cable news, the world has seemingly devolved into a black or white conversation in which you must DEFEND YOUR POSITION AT ALL COSTS!
That’s not what owning your actions means. Owning your actions means you can admit you made mistakes. You can make changes to your life, to your opinions, to your statements – as long as you don’t try to deny what you once said or did. That’s how we get into the political double-speak and false apologies that fill so much of our airwaves in 2014.
“I’m sorry that what I said hurt people’s feelings” is not an apology. It’s a cop out. If you want to OWN your words, then own them. “You may have been offended by what I said, but that’s how I feel” is a more honest statement than you’ll ever hear from most public apologies. I actually don’t believe that the comedians who get lambasted for making an off-color joke or tweeting something “too soon” need to apologize for it. Why do so many people not accept that “Hey, I never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it was a joke. I tried to add levity to a very difficult topic and some people didn’t take it the way I meant it.”
Sorry, this was all preamble. There has been a lot in the news in the past couple of years about the morality of caging animals for the entertainment of people. It’s been a topic that’s been around for decades, to be honest, but the criticism is more often coming from the average person and not just from activist groups like PETA. Recently, the travel blogger conference TBEX has come under fire for including dolphin tours in Cancun as part of their itinerary. Rather than directly get into the issue, they’re doubling down on their outright wrong-ness: “We don’t pick the tours, select them or promote them and we’re not saying these tours are good, or these companies are good.” It’s YOUR event. You’re saying you have no control over it? What a bunch of crap. Try that line of shit on people who DON’T understand how conventions, events and the tourism businesses work.
In the interest of owning my actions, I’ve done a couple of things in the past that I can call out and admit where I was horribly wrong. While traveling in Thailand, I participated in two wild animal tourism activities: one was a day spent riding elephants and the other was playing with caged tigers. It tears me up in thinking about it, because both days were among the most memorable of my life but – let’s lay it out there – both were done out of ignorance and absolute selfish desire.
There are a lot of things I could say about why I joined both of those activities and about “oh, but this one didn’t abuse the animals like others do,” but let’s get to the core of it. I was pretty damned ignorant, selfish and didn’t do any homework before I reacted to the colorful posters at the tourism desks. “Lots of people do it and look like they’re having a great time, so I should try it, too!”
I stopped going to zoos a long time ago, because watching wild animals trapped in a small box, usually out of place in an inhospitable climate, made me really sad. It’s not quite clear to me why I didn’t extend that thought to the tigers and elephants in Thailand – maybe I thought it was okay because it was a foreign country and was culturally more acceptable, somehow.
Since then, I’ve read a great deal more about the abuses those animals suffer for the sake of tourism. Professionally, it’s difficult for me to hold a strong stance on the topic because zoos and marine animal parks come with the territory in my career, but I’m fortunate that I’ve never worked on any of those projects. So, screw it. I can lay it out right here than I won’t EVER work on any projects that involve wild animals in captivity. Admittedly, that’s easier to say in the latter days of my career than it may have been in the earlier ones.
Over time, I’ve given thought to my stance – which aspects I got wrong and what the right answer is (for me). Previously, there’s been a lot of gray area in my mind – there are legitimate conservation efforts that are funded and supported through animal parks, I have friends who have joined conservation groups BECAUSE they saw the abuses. Most of that gray area has been cleared up for me now, though.
When a wild animal is kept captive for purposes of entertainment, it’s wrong. 100% of the time. Are there sometimes good benefits from those activities? Sure, but stealing $100,000 from someone doesn’t suddenly become right because you give 10% of it to feed the poor. Those organizations who are in the business of conservation, education and research will have to figure out where that moral line is for them, but the goal should be 100% elimination of wild animals in captivity. As with all things in life, there will be exceptions, but making those exceptions should be done with careful consideration, including motives that are ultimately for the benefit of the animals rather than the person or the business. When an exception is made, it must be considered a failure of all other alternatives.
It seems like TBEX isn’t backing down from its plans and rather tan admit being wrong, they’re digging in their heels with excuses and rationalizations. Hopefully their attendees will call them out for it more directly and get the group to stand up for what’s right rather than continuing to crouch in a defensive posture. TBEX co-founder Rick Calvert said: “We won’t be bullied into cancelling a tour by a small pressure group.” Hey, Rick, how about canceling a tour because it’s the right thing to do? Is that okay?
The Guardian: Travel bloggers call for conference to cancel dolphin tours
As for my own site, I’ve tossed around the idea of removing the blog posts I wrote about each of the two days but at this point, I’m going to let them stay. As I said at the opening, owning your actions isn’t about pretending they didn’t happen, it’s about admitting you were wrong. Each of the posts will now include a brief paragraph stating:
“After a great deal of reflection and research, I no longer support tourism that includes the captivity of wild animals. Please consider that stance and read my current feelings on the topic as you read this post. I haven’t removed the post because I don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen and perhaps, reading with my changed views in mind may change yours, as well. I urge you to find alternate ways to connect with nature and wildlife that don’t involve cages or chains.”