Saturday, February 6, 2016

TO BE KIND


A comic strip called MUTTS delves into the special bond between animals and guardians, while advocating for various animal issues.  Last year, the MUTTS team created a Manifesto, to encourage compassion with animals, humans, and the planet.  The first point on it is “To Be Kind”.

I wondered, isn’t being kind what all humans should be?  Unfortunately, acts of kindness are not the typical headlines dominating the news. A kind person often appears as the exception, rather than the rule.  In today’s society, it is a sad commentary.  So, how do we change the status quo?  We start by setting an example and treating not only our own pets, but all animals with the respect and compassion they deserve.

Humans do have a moral obligation to animals because, if for no other reason, we and they are not as disparate as we believe.  According to the July 3, 2014  New York Times article ‘Zoo Animals and Their Discontents’, by Alex Halberstadt,  “A profusion of recent studies has shown animals to be far closer to us than we previously believed — it turns out that common shore crabs feel and remember pain, zebra finches experience REM sleep, fruit-fly brothers cooperate, dolphins and elephants recognize themselves in mirrors, chimpanzees assist one another without expecting favors in return and dogs really do feel elation in their owners’ presence.”  If we pay attention to the scientific data that indicates animals have emotion and are self-aware, then it is a valid argument that we should also reconsider our treatment of them. 

Science is not our only source to aid us in reaching the conclusion that animals should be treated with respect.  All of the world’s major religions recognize the value of animal life and the need to avoid animal suffering.  Judaism embraces the Hebrew concept of tsa'ar ba'alei hayim – a principle which bans inflicting unnecessary pain on animals.  Evidence of caring attitudes towards animals can be found in the Bible, an example being: ‘A righteous man regardeth the life of the beast’ (Proverbs 12.10).  With Hinduism and Buddhism, nature is held sacred and humans are not any more significant than any other living thing.  The prophet Mohammed said, "It behooves you to treat the animals gently".  Native American traditions and beliefs vary extensively, but the common premise is all of Nature is sacred.

According to the National PTA Congress, “Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind, and considerate in their relations to each other. “ What that tells us is, when children learn to treat animals kindly, even the least adored, they are also learning how to treat fellow members of society.  Learning about compassion in the formative years aids in helping reduce instances of violence to all living beings. 

It is believed that Mahatma Ghandi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  If this is true, then the ethical standards of the community are weakened by the acceptance of inhumane treatment of animals.  If we can discount and ignore the well-being of animals, then it becomes much easier for us to ignore the welfare of other humans.  Our capacity to understand another person's condition from their perspective becomes diminished.  We find that we are no longer empathetic and our ability to look beyond our own self-absorbed interests to help others is decreased.  Teaching kindness and respect for animals is a good first step in teaching empathy.

On another note, research documents the importance of the human-animal bond in child development, elderly care, mental and physical illness, dementia, abuse, and trauma recovery, and the rehabilitation of the incarcerated.  By cultivating our compassion for all living creatures, we can consequently improve our own physical and mental health. 

In the 1975 book, ‘Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals’, author Peter Singer states “
The animals themselves are incapable of demanding their own liberation, or of protesting against their condition …Human beings have the power to continue to oppress other species forever … Will our tyranny continue… Or will we rise to the challenge and prove our capacity for genuine altruism by ending our ruthless exploitation of the species in our power ?… The way in which we answer this question depends on the way in which each one of us, individually, answers.” 


We can answer with compassion, respect, and kindness to animals.



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