Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I often wonder if we have to learn compassion, or if we are born with it. When I look to examples from our living friends, I think I have come to believe that we are all born with an innate capacity for compassion, acceptance, and unconditional love. Yet, by a very early age, most of us are conditioned to ignore and suppress these admirable traits. We learn that those that are not like us are not as important. And we definitely learn that our non-human relatives are "just animals" - disposable, unfeeling, unaware beings.
We at AARF receive approximately 100 emails and phone calls a week from people wanting to give up their pets (some even want to "donate" them to us). They all have reasons that they think are logical, but most are based on the premise that animals have no consciousness or experience no feelings of loss, connection or grief. For most people, their pets are disposable. For example, we recently received this email:
"I have a newborn baby and have to find a new home for my indoor dogs. ASAP before my wife takes them to the pound where they will probably be put to sleep."
What better way to teach your new child compassion than to teach him to love, care for and respect other living creatures? What exactly will children be taught when the responsibility of caring for a pet becomes too much trouble? The lessons that I think most children will learn are 1) animals are disposable, 2) animals have no feelings that we need to consider, 3) taking responsibility for other living creatures is optional. These are the lessons that teach children to "unlearn" the inherent compassion that we are all born with.
We often consider ourselves as humans as the most evolved species on the planet. Yet no other animal kills other animals for convenience or expediency. No other species exploits hundreds of other species for their own benefit, with often little regard for providing a mutual benefit. And no other species teaches its young that other living things are disposable.
The picture above is of a chimp named Anjana who lives at The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species in South Carolina. Anjana has helped to raise several orphaned lion and tiger cubs, including currently caring for two white tiger cubs rejected by their mother. This picture, more than any I have seen in a long time, exemplifies the unconditional compassion that I think we are all born with, that we all still possess. This picture touches me in a primitive way, in that part of me that knows we are all connected. And in a way that reminds me that as the most destructive and exploitative species on the planet, we have caused so much pain and suffering to our cohabitants, if only through our non-action.
What I wish for everyone that reads this blog entry is that you feel a pang of compassion reminiscent of a child's, before the unlearning process began. And that you feel a tug of responsibility that comes only from knowing that you have no other choice but to act. We need all of you. They need us.