[March 12, 2019] I love dogs. Most folks do, and that explains why people in the United States spend more on dog care than their government spends on poverty programs.1 The phrase, pick of the litter is an idiom meaning to pick the best from a group. Usually referring to a dog litter, its meaning can apply to anything where a choice is made based on an educated judgment.2
When I entered college as an Engineer major at Texas Tech University, our first-year chemistry professor told us on our first day that we were the pick of the litter of college students. He told us also a few other things that mattered a great deal.
Besides being among the “best and brightest” students in the university, he said, we were also the most likely to fail out of college, fail in relationships, and commit suicide. I thought he was crazy and I didn’t like him. But he was right.
Today, we don’t say pick of the litter very much. Another word, one that has ideological trappings, is used more often. If I were sitting in that chemistry class today, the professor would say that I am “privileged.” It matters not how hard it was to get into that class (as measured by past performance).
Leadership and the responsibility that goes with it, however, demand that we recognize the ability to make good judgments as a highly valued trait. It is difficult being a leader. There is no surprise that great leaders are rare; those that can make judgments that turn out for the best. A little creativity, conscientiousness, and courage go a long way to making a leader better than others. They are the ones we would choose from that litter.
I grew up with dogs and learned how to pick the “best” from any litter. This assumes, of course, there is a particular trait that a dog owner would want. My favorite dogs from my childhood were two Rough Collies; their names were Sparky and Prince (thanks to my sister for reminding me). They were the pick of the litter.
Now I have a Yellow Labrador, she was the pick of the litter.