The news story is horrifying. A swimmer at an Argentine beach sees a baby dolphin in the water, seizes it, and brings it to land, unconcerned that a dolphin cannot survive out of the water.
On the shore, a mob of beachgoers passes around the dolphin so that they can take selfies with the helpless, suffering animal. Subsequently they leave the dolphin on the sand to die.
The takeaway is obvious, and it is bleak. For the most part, we humans are concerned only with ourselves. We have little regard for the other living beings with whom we share this planet: their lives, their spirits, their deaths. We consider animals mostly in terms of how we can exploit them for our own pleasure: for food, for entertainment, for experimentation, and for whatever we can manufacture out of their bodies.
The fate of this one baby dolphin repeats, over and over, endlessly. Humans kill more than 56 billion animals in slaughterhouses every year.
Imagine 56 billion helpless beings.
And these numbers don’t include animals killed in laboratories, shelters, circuses, and blood sports. Nor do they include marine life, like dolphins, whales, and fish. Roughly estimated, humans murder 90 billion marine animals each year.
Imagine 90 billion powerless beings.
It upsets me to write of this, to contemplate the lives and fates of others, different but in no way inferior to us, who suffer, fear, and feel pain, just as you and I suffer, fear, and feel pain. But we all know that nothing will change if we look away and ignore reality, simply because the reality is awful.
Is it not time for us humans to stop our cruelty toward other species?
As a psychologist, I know that when we label other groups as «less than» — and «animal» is the ultimate segregating label — we stop believing that we need to have any consideration for their existence or for their well being. I would say that we «dehumanize» them, but of course, the word «dehumanize» is itself an example of our denying non-humans their…
Their what, exactly?
Their humanity? Nope: another species-ist term. Search as I might, I can’t find a single word to express the notion that globally, human cultures, languages, and belief systems deny non-humans their right to live, unmolested. Their right simply to be.
We don’t need to treat other creatures with so much thoughtlessness and cruelty. We’d be far better off if we didn’t.
There are human-made substitutes for all manner of animal-based materials. Studies show that a plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer (while my dining experiences show that a plant-based diet can be amazingly delicious). And of course, raising animals for food contributes more to the Pandora’s box of global warming than all forms of transportation, combined.
So we are literally making ourselves sick, rendering the earth uninhabitable, and putting our survival in peril through our cruelty toward animals.
And what of our own souls? Studies show that children who abuse animals often grow up to abuse other humans. Sad to say, the reality is that we’re pretty much all abusing animals. There’s just usually a screen between the abuse and us, be it the windowless walls of a slaughterhouse or our own ignorance, willful and otherwise.
How does this behavior affect who we are? And how would changing our behavior change us?
Imagine if, as Albert Einstein proposed, we humans widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures. If each of us dedicates ourselves to avoiding cruelty to humans and non-humans alike. If we open our eyes to how many of our indulgences thoughtlessly rest on a foundation of animal suffering. If we elevate kindness and compassion toward all beings as a great virtue rather than a nice thing to do when it is not too inconvenient for us.
If we respect all lives.
Imagine if we begin to adhere to a slightly altered golden rule, and treat every creature, regardless of species, as we would wish to be treated.
- Would we not transform ourselves, as individuals and as homo sapiens, from threat to ally?
- Would we not be choosing a path of sustainability, both for our own health and for the health of the earth?
- Would not our planet be a far more peaceable place for all to live, human and non-human alike?
Well, here’s the good news: Every single one of us has the ability to find out for ourselves, through the power of our own choices, the sorts of change we might bring about. Our current system only works because we all cooperate.
Don’t be an indifferent bystander on that beach. All lives, including our own, depend on it.