As we wrap up the first month of 2017, I’m reflecting on simple ways we can be more compassionate to each other for the remainder of the year. With so much turmoil and uncertainty happening in my country and across the world, I think we must really make a more conscious effort to extend our compassion and empathy toward everyone.
In reflecting on what it means to be compassionate to one another, I am reminded of how we treat animals. And although it may seem completely unrelated, I think the way we treat one another is connected to the way we treat our fellow non-human creatures.
With that said – I’d like you to consider the following and make a small change in your vocabulary to help make your 2017 a more compassionate one…
My husband and I recently adopted a dog. He’s the sweetest pup with a mostly mellow disposition.
As anyone with a doggy companion will tell you – their dog is the best. And I’m no exception. I’ve become that person who posts mostly photos of her dog on social media, talks about her dog as if he’s a human child I brought into this world on my own, and frets over him when I’m traveling for work.
Since having my pup, Chili, at home, I’ve taken a liking to observing him function.
I love the way in which he frames his face with his paws when he’s feeling mellow and relaxed or how he sleeps completely on his back when tired after a nice romp on the beach…. I especially enjoy the way he slinks off the couch , leaving his back legs on the seat cushions with his front legs on the floor, as if to pause and ponder his next move. He then trots over to his toy box and gingerly grasps a toy in his mouth – putting one-by-one onto the floor until he’s selected the toy that’s suitable.
And in those moments there is no question in my mind that this animal has likes and dislikes, and makes decisions based on premeditated thought and his own preferences.
I find myself wondering what his inner life is like; what exactly is going on inside his head?
Does he dream in the way humans do?
Does he think about what he would like to do on a sunny day or that he’d rather nap away the afternoon when it’s gloomy and cold outside?
Does he remember that he once lived alone on the streets?
Over the years I’ve given a lot of thought into the way we collectively view animals, but it is only very recently that I’ve truly felt the weight of the responsibility that goes into caring for another creature.
Chili relies on my husband and myself for literally everything: when he gets to go to the bathroom, when and what he gets to eat, where he sleeps, with whom he socializes, and so on. We control every aspect of his life ….
Imagine that. Being an intelligent being on this Earth who has likes and dislikes, preferences and needs, but can not live autonomously and make his own choices. Who must rely on the goodwill of another being who will act as their guardian.
Now, before you roll your eyes and tell me that the responsibility of having a pet pales in comparison to the responsibility of having a human child I will tell you that I’m not comparing the two or saying caring for a pet is like raising a child. I’m simply saying that the responsibility we undertake when we make the commitment to bring a pet into our homes is often understated.
For many with pets, simply returning or abandoning a pet who has become a nuisance or an inconvenience in some way is socially acceptable.
The emotional well being of that animal is not taken into consideration, because many view dogs or cats or any other animal as unintelligent, inferior ,and incapable of experiencing emotional suffering.
Many a animal guardian has referred to herself as a “crazy dog parent” in conversation with others, because that particular qualifier signals to others that she acknowledges she is going above and beyond what one might consider “normal” when caring for a pet. We don’t want people thinking we’re crazy, right? After all, an animal is just an animal.
But I reject that we have to frame our language in such a way that would indicate our emotional investment in our pets is over the top or unjustified. Don’t we have the room in our hearts to extend love and compassion to all living beings?
I think we’re on our way to expanding our circles of compassion to include animals, but I think we have a long way to go. There is a disconnect in our society in terms of the way we view them in general: we regard some as food, while we welcome others into our home as family, and others are abandoned to shelters or to the streets.
Our perception of animals will never fully evolve until we acknowledge animals as members of our community rather than resources or commodities- mere “things” we can buy, sell, return, or give away. Until we acknowledge them as individuals with their own interests .
An easy change we can all commit to that will slowly help to reshape our relationship with animals is in the language we use day-to-day.
Instead of saying “own” I choose to say that I am my dogs’ guardian; one who is charged with ensuring that he is well-cared for, healthy, and happy.
On a philosophical and spiritual level, I reject the notion that anyone can “own” another being. We share this planet with them and they have every right to be here and to live in peace just as you or I. In fact, I believe we are beholden to the animals we’ve domesticated. We are the reason they’re here in such great numbers and we’re the reason that many suffer needlessly on the street or in shelters. It is our duty to care for them.
The word guardian is charged with responsibility; if we view ourselves as guardians I think the roles we play in caring for animals becomes more valued.
Words matter. The language we use day-to-day influences patterns of behaviors, thoughts, and the way we perceive the world. From the Guardian Campaign, whose mission it is to change the public’s perception of animals, “In choosing a more accurate term to define your relationship with animals, you are helping to elevate a community’s consciousness and way of thinking about non-human animals. By viewing, treating, and speaking of animals from the perspective of a guardian, you are respecting and recognizing that they are individuals with needs and interests of their own..”
Helping to evolve our perception and relationship to animals is wonderful on it’s own, but by thinking and acting more compassionately toward animals we expand our hearts and are more likely to be more compassionate toward one another.
All actions are connected – studies show that individuals who are taught empathy and kindness towards animals from a young age will grow up to be more empathetic individuals in general; similarly, individuals who harm animals tend to graduate to harming people.
I urge you to check out and join the Guardian Campaign, created by In Defense of Animals, and explore the ways in which something as simple as changing our vocabulary can have a positive impact.