In June we welcomed Shasta Daisy, our new goldendoodle, to our household. I love goldendoodles. They are beautiful and smart and full of energy. Lots of energy. Did I mention she is energetic? Watching Shasta play I kept thinking about Alan Greenspan’s famous phrase, “irrational exuberance.” After a few weeks my wife and I were worn down to a nub, so we began casting about for ways to curb or at least channel Shasta’s enthusiasm. We rejected doggy downers and decided to enroll her in puppy school instead.
On the first day of class we showed up at the appointed time, paid the tuition, and proceeded to the training area, where Shasta and four other dogs barked, wagged and yanked on their leashes as they got to know each other. Shasta, at least, was having a grand time, but when the trainer finally arrived I immediately began to reevaluate the wisdom of our choice, because almost the first thing out of his mouth was “there are no right or wrong answers here.” (Am I the only one who loathes that phrase with the burning intensity of a thousand suns?) When he said this, many questions began to run through my head such as: “Have we enrolled Shasta in a post-modern puppy class?” “If she refuses to sit on command, is the trainer going to deconstruct the word ‘sit’ and tell us that in context it means ‘not to sit’?” “Is this one of those puppy schools were every student is an ‘honor student,’ so the phrase ‘honor student’ means nothing more than ‘student?'” And most importantly, “If you don’t have any right answers for me, why am I paying you to teach this class?”
Well of course I needn’t have worried, because no sooner had the trainer spouted the loathsome inanity than he started to give us right answers. We were to hold the reward treat thusly. We were to say the command only once and never more than once, etc. Shasta Daisy was, naturally, the star pupil. She learned each command (OK, there was only one command) seemingly without effort. And though none of the other owners admitted it, I have no doubt they were bubbling over with envy.
After class I puzzled over why the trainer had felt it was necessary to begin the course with an obvious falsehood. Of course there are right ways to train a puppy and wrong ways to train a puppy, and he knew that far better than us. The best explanation I could think of was that he is a victim of the spirit of our age. That spirit bids us tolerate all and judge none. It is not enough to be patient with those who commit error; we must deny that such a thing as “error” even exists. To which I say, “rubbish.” Facts, as is often said, are stubborn things. When it comes to opinion, there may not be any “right” or “wrong” answers. But even opinions are divided between “foolish” and “wise.” And even Shasta knows that to obey the “sit” command, is simply not the same thing as refusing to obey the “sit” command, becuase she gets a treat for the former and not the latter.
So please, I beg you, consign the “no right or wrong answer” nonsense to the dustbin of at least useless and probably harmful phrases. It just ain’t so.