The Trouble with Lesson-Teaching Animals

Okay, so we were talking about Life Lessons that we can learn from nature.


Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is Flipper. (For you younger readers, Flipper was the name of a dolphin who used to star in a TV show called Flipper. The show first aired in 1964. That was right about the time America’s involvement in the Vietnam War was really starting to crank up. Though Vietnam was certainly a difficult time, the one thing everyone agreed on was that it sure was great being able to turn on TV and watch a show starring a dolphin.) Even though when I was a kid about the only way to get me to move from in front of the TV was via a fire hose, I wasn’t a huge Flipper fan. I found the whole concept of the show confusing. For one, dolphins always seem to be smiling. At least when Lassie was barking out the details of an unfolding emergency, she had about her a measure of gravitas. But a smiling, dancing, flipper flapping dolphin somehow never communicated to me “A boat has tipped over!” so much as it did, “Throw me another fish!”

Plus, Flipper’s voice wasn’t exactly music unto my ears. Like anyone, I think it’s massively cool that dolphins have this whole language they can communicate with. But I’m afraid that if dolphins ever want to communicate with me personally, they’re going to have to come up with another voice. If a dolphin ever called me on the phone using the voice they do now, I’m afraid that, before I could even stop myself, I’d hang up.

And that would just be so wrong.

I wonder if Jacques Cousteau was hard of hearing?

Anyway, Flipper was, I believe, a good example of an animal who taught people valuable life lessons. I’m sure he taught lots of great stuff to the two boys who … owned him, or used to hang out with him, or whatever. He probably taught them great stuff like “Use suntan lotion,” and … um … gosh … “Try not to bleed too far out into the sea”? I really don’t know; as I say, the lesson Flipper mostly taught me was that when it came to talking animals, Mr. Ed was really the only way to go. (Again, for you younger readers: Mr. Ed was the name of an old TV show starring an “amazing” horse named Mr. Ed. What made Mr. Ed so amazing was that he spoke perfect English.) I actually wasn’t too keen on Mr. Ed, either, though. Again, too confusing. Why wasn’t the guy who owned Mr. Ed—Wilbur—married? He sure seemed old enough to be. But instead, Wilbur’s only friend seemed to be this horse—this horse who spoke only to him. And, to me, the fact that Mr. Ed spoke exclusively to Wilbur made unavoidable the question of whether or not Wilbur was, in reality, insane.

I just couldn’t enjoy a show about a lonely bachelor who is so psychologically disturbed that he imagines farm animals talk to him. If I wanted that kind of programming, I could always watch The Twilight Zone. Which, again, I rarely did. Who knew what the animals on that show might do?

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