Following your principles isn’t always easy

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Every year you hear in the news about the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins in Japan.

Sea Shepherd writes

Every year in Japan 20,000 dolphins, porpoises and small whales slaughtered. From September 1st to usually far in March of the following year fishermen herd entire schools of small cetaceans in a shallow bay, after which they mercilessly stab and drown them. This annual slaughter of dolphins was virtually unknown until 2003, secretly obtained Sea Shepherd film and photos of the now infamous bloody “Cove” in the village of Taiji, was publicized. (Source Sea Shepherd / translated from the Dutch site)

Following your principesIn recent years a lot of people are outraged about this. But that wasn’t always the case.

Every time I hear the news of this massacre, I ‘m reminded of how I tried to stay true to my principles – in a non-activist, non-moralizing way – and I hardly got any real support. There was a time when I had to swim with dolphins in captivity but I refused by principle. In fact, I was intimidated and threatened to do it anyway.

Before I explain how this happened, first an explanation from Sea Shepherd why you shouldn’t swim with dolphins in captivity:

The dolphinhunts and killing in Taiji isn’t the only thing that is happening. Taiji is indeed “ground zero ” for the international trade in live dolphins. It’s about money – lots of money – in the entertainment industry who work with captive dolphins. It is even doubtful whether the Taiji Fishermen’s Union (FU) can sustain killing the dolphins without the revenue that they get from the trade in live dolphins. It is an expensive operation. We understand that the FU earns 32,000 U.S. Dollars for each live dolphin they catch. Trained dolphins are worth much more. There is a direct link between the entertainment industry working with live dolphins and the bloody waters of the cove in Taiji. (Source Sea Shepherd / translated from the Dutch site)

Following your principles can be difficult and complicated, but luckily not impossible.

Years ago I participated in a (never aired) TV program, which was intended to shine a positive light on the culture and sports side of the Dutch Antilles and Aruba. In 5 weeks 9 candidates had several cultural and active challenges. It was a chaotic, poorly organized program. Rules were often unclear, and the line of the program changed every time. The judging was subjectively done mostly by the production team, and candidates and other production members were frequently yelled at. We have experienced great things at times, but it was heavy and intense most of the time.

At the end of the five weeks we went to Small Curaçao. There were still a few assignments we had to do, and some free-time activities were organized, that weren’t part of the program. One free-time activity was swimming with dolphins in a aquarium on Curaçao. The producer said in a friendly tone: “Who does not want to swim with the dolphins, should let me know.

I didn’t want to swim with dolphins in captivity, because I knew how these dolphins were often caught. I did not want to contribute in this practice. So I said that I didn’t want to participate. I wanted to talk to the caretakers of the aquarium to ask where their dolphins came from. But I didn’t get the chance to explain what my intentions were. The producer shouted: “YOU are going to swim with those dolphins!” I stammered: Why? You just said that we didn’t have to, if we didn’t want to??” “You. Will . Swim. With. Those. Dolphins!” I was simmering and I was puzzled what was happening to me. And honestly, I was scared too. There was so much frustration and anger poured over me. He finished with a threatened tone: “We’ll talk about it later.”

Following your principlesImagine: we were on Small Curaçao, an uninhabited rocky island of three square kilometers with just a beach house and an old lighthouse. This discussion took place at the beach house. To be able to talk alone, the producer, along with the event manager, wanted to walk away from the beach house where everybody was. We ended up on a piece of land, consisting of little rocks.

I took a deep breath and asked with astonishment and anger: “Why is it a problem if I don’t swim with the dolphins?” The producer said I had deliberately been sabotaging the program all the time. Okay, my body language might have shown that I thought the organization and implementation of the program wasn’t good, but deliberately sabotage it? No. And what did that have to do with the swimming with the dolphins, which wasn’t a part of the program anyway?

I really didn’t understand why this happened. It seemed to be about me and not about the program. These were two big guys hanging over me, as it were. For what? I became angrier and angrier. No one could force me to do something I didn’t want to do.

I was told that I had signed a contract, stating that I should always cooperate. Well, I had signed that contract months ago, I couldn’t remember that clearly what was stated. I think it didn’t state that I had to do everything they asked, but I didn’t know for sure.
I was told that I had to stay on Curaçao for 10 more days and that they would take my ticket. “Okay,” I thought, mockingly, “10 extra days of holiday, away from this nonsense, without you. I’d love to. I’ll pay with my credit card or something.”

“If you don’t cooperate, we’ll take you to court.” “Fine, take me to court”, I thought combative. How did he think he could win this? I would find a lawyer. I was so angry that someone tried to force me, I was ready to fight. “You signed a contract and have to pay a million.” Was that stated in the contract? I couldn’t imagine. I didn’t know. Shit. I didn’t have a million.

I wanted to get out of this conversation, I wanted to think about it. I tried a different cooperative approach. “What if I just lay in the water, but I don’t touch the dolphins?” (Yes, it was an absurd suggestion, but I really wanted to get away from these people). “You are going to touch the dolphins! I didn’t believe my ears. This was absurd.

My calmness disappeared like snow under the blazing sun. I muttered angrily: “I’m not your slave”. “What did you say? the producer fumed at me. He had heard me, but I didn’t want to repeat it, afraid he would hit me. Instead, I said, “You also can’t force me to sleep with a man either!” “You’ve already done that anyway,” referring to someone I related to in the group. Sigh. I let that insult slide.

Following your principlesI realized that I really had to get out of this intimidating situation. I didn’t want to stand on those unstable rocks any longer. If something physical threatened to happen, I could not easily run away. I gave up for that moment. I said I would swim with the dolphins. Those were just words. They couldn’t physically force me. Never ever. I walked away and cried out a loud scream. I realized what had happened. Someone tried to force me to something physical what I didn’t want to do.

There were a few people who supported me. Mostly because they thought I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to.

Still, I felt alone. Their words were only words. What use were words to me when I was being threatened and intimidated? Nothing was done to help me.

I was also astonished about the person who always fought for animal welfare, but wanted to swim with dolphins so much. She seemed to ignore the stories I told about the slaughter and trade.

That was another moment of confusion about how people can be.

Later, the event manager came to me and said Girl, calm down, I ‘ll take care of it.” A few hours later we were back at the resort on Curaçao. I sat at a table on the terrace. The other candidates were sitting at another table next to mine. I sat with my back to them. The event manager spoke with them. I heard him say that they decided that only six of the nine candidates were allowed to swim with the dolphins. The other candidates were outraged: “This is unfair!” The event manager responded – referring to me, “It’s not my fault, go to her to complain.

Goddamnit: first he said he was going to help with his so-called solution, only to make me look bad. Wonderful. People in the group said to me: “ah, how bad can it be, just swim with those dolphins.” I was the one who was being difficult, I was the one that was creating problems. Because of me, a few people couldn’t swim with the dolphins.

But I stuck to my principles. Out of principle. At the end I didn’t swim with the dolphins, but jeez, I was pissed, disappointed, confused and disillusioned. And at the same time I felt stronger than ever.

Never again would anybody force me to do something I didn’t want to do.

As you can see, following your principles isn’t that easy. There are several elements that can make it complicated:

  • Sometimes you think you have allies with your principles, but those allies don’t want to or cannot support you. Even with allies, you can end up standing alone.
  • People follow principles in their own way, the way it suits them. Even with altruistic principles, they can choose for their own interests and forget about their altruistic principles.
  • Even though you don’t have a click with a certain group of people, you can still feel the pressure that you have to adapt to the group. Following your own principles is still difficult.
  • Words are just words and can sometimes create the illusion of support. Although you feel less alone, no real action of supporters will leave you standing alone with your principles.
  • Sometimes logical argumentation won’t help you. People can be against you as a person, and they want to block you at any cost. No strong argument will fight that.

This isn’t about that everyone should consistently follow their principles at all times. I also don’t follow all my principles perfectly. I have conflicting principles too. And sometimes I also just follow my own interests.

What is important here is that following your principles can be made difficult by many factors. The situation in which you find yourself can be confusing and disillusioning. Sometimes you don’t know what to do. It can make you so angry that you can not think clear and calm anymore.

To follow your principles you have to (literally) stand strong and stable without losing your flexibility and openness, and that isn’t always easy, even when you’re not being threatened. But fortunately it’s not impossible.

PS: There was an interesting aftermath: a few months later the other candidates emailed me. They wanted to start a court case against the production team because it took so long before we got to see the video. They asked me if I wanted to help, by sharing this story. Now they needed me to be stronger, they would support me. I have never replied.

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