Our Relationship with Other Animals Could Save the Planet
I’m not a scientist but spending more time in nature has made me think like one.
Our Relationship with Other Animals Could Save the Planet
Few moments in life have the power to open our hearts and minds to allow us to see the world in a new way. Mine began with a dolphin who looked me right in the eye and gave me the first real sense of another species as a kindred soul. It was if I had put on my first pair of glasses and seen leaves on a tree for the first time, a moment of awareness that for better or worse we are in this world together.
What if a bond with other animals gave humans the wisdom to reinvent ourselves as protectors of the planet rather than its users? What if that inter-species relationship could awaken the power to recognize our own species as the weak link in the planet’s welfare? What if a friendship with only one animal could change the way we see and care for the world?
I believe it can. It’s our reward for compassion, the ability to think outside ourselves, our family, our country, our culture and yes, our species. The bond with an animal is the most powerful way we humans have to understand our individual effect on each other and all beings of the earth. That awareness will give humans the ability to rethink what is healthy for our planet rather than what is profitable for us.
It’s not the kind of progress we usually think of, the kind that builds and expands at the expense of other living beings and the planet’s resources. Rather, it’s the growth of ethics, kindness and sharing. It will take an evolution in thinking and yet it’s not a new thought.
In 1952, after two world wars, it was compassion that Albert Schweitzer spoke of as the “humanitarian ideal,” as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Geneva, Switzerland. Schweitzer lived with an empathy that knew no bounds, giving to the people of equatorial Africa a hospital and himself as their physician. But rather than speak of his own work which was considerable, Schweitzer’s speech was about human kindness that was broader than country and family. He envisioned a compassion that would end war and world destruction. His words were about ending the cycle of bigger and better world-annihilating weapons, of overcoming nationalism and the war for the earth’s resources at the expense of other peoples, nations and animals. For this German-born theologian and medical missionary, compassion meant rethinking every human act for its effect and kindness to the entire planet.
Being humane was the trait Schweitzer considered the most important part of being human because he believed that humans learned “the root of their ethics” by being with other species, caring and bonding with them. Compassion, Schweitzer said, “can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.”
That we have the innate ability to connect with other animals is nature’s way of overcoming our indifference, our selfishness of preserving ourselves at the expense of others. We humans are the most important allies of our planet’s preservation because we are the only beings who have the means to destroy it.
That ability to connect with species unlike ourselves is in every human being. Anyone who has given an animal time, love and care will identify with the ability to bond. I believe nature gave us that connection to protect our planet. The ecosystem that provides our planet with diverse life is only preserved by careful stewardship. We haven’t done that and mass extinction threatens us.
We need other animals. Humans cannot survive without them. This vast, complex and yet connected web of life keeps our ecosystem healthy for all life on this planet. Illustrated with the wolves of Yellowstone, when they were killed off other species in nature also vanished. When the wolves were reintroduced — by allowing them protection under the endangered species act and then protected until the species was back in healthy numbers — that vast network of life, the trees, the brush, the streams, came back as well.
Scientists understand this connection that all life forms share but for the rest of us that connection is not as obvious. The good news is we can learn and as our population grows it’s going to be even more clear that we have to do a better job of not just sharing but conserving our resources for all life that lives on this planet and those who come after us.
You don’t have to be a scientist to appreciate that connection. When mass extinction happens we risk the well-being of our planet. By doing what is necessary to allow nature to survive and thrive we have the chance to save the planet and ourselves.
I had lived my life never considering how my choices affected the health of other animals. My conscience had been clear only because I was so clearly oblivious to the painful reality of their lives. But humans have been conditioned not to think. The industry of using, abusing and killing other animals for humans is hidden purposely so that we don’t know the terror and pain they feel. A bond with an animal gives humans the wisdom and courage to face the fact that we have considered ourselves more important than the murder of animals. With compassion we open our eyes to the truth of what we do in the name of progress, a progress that may be efficient for feeding the masses but has cost us our connection to the earth, to nature, to animals and to our bond with the planet. A bond with only one other animal can give us back the insight to see clearly that the way we live matters.
The truth will haunt us but with the truth we gain the ability to undo the damage we have done. Without our earth’s vital ecological balance we will lose our ability to survive. The industry of killing animals for food is not only torture on a corporate scale it’s unhealthy for humans and toxic for our air and water. We humans ignore the truth , the horror for other animals, because it’s ugly and ignorance means we can continue living the way we do.
A connection with an animal gives humans the ability to understand science in a way that touches our conscience. We can’t absolve ourselves of the ugliness or the responsibility that is ours and not some other generation’s to fix.
We must face that our way of living impacts the entire world when we make changes to help ourselves. Humans take more and more land from animals and then consider it theirs without a thought that they are the invaders. We are wiping out entire species without giving a thought to the damage we’ve caused in the name of progress. We civilized and enlightened humans bulldoze nature, take animal habitat and close our eyes and minds to the horrors of the factory farming and animal experimentation.
An inter-species relationship opens your eyes to everything we thought we knew about the world we share with others. That’s the awareness humans need for a more humane world, a safer and more stable place for all species. Then, and only then, will our planet’s vital resources have a chance to endure for all beings, not just selected ones in privileged nations. Awareness becomes the catalyst to change our relationship with nature and our environment.
Bonding with a animal might seem a really simple a fix for a complex problem like climate change but that awareness of our connection to all other beings on this earth is the first step of acceptance that we are responsible for fixing it.
Compassion gives us that power. If we disconnect from other species, from nature, we will not see how we influence the earth dying. We will ignore the damage we do to earth and we will let the earth die without ever recognizing our part in saving it.
There is still hope. When we care for other animals we recognize that we are not the only creatures who feel pain and fear and joy. When we experience nature we realize we can find joy in it as it is, not one created by corporations on some artificial but grand scale. That connection to our planet gives us the strength to stand up and speak out to more development, more malls, highways and the urban sprawl that steals from nature. That progress of living humanely, respecting nature and protecting it, will give our lives deeper meaning.
This generation is where we have to begin. Demonstrating compassion for animals teaches our children to not think of animals as playthings to own but as their responsibility to respect and protect. What children learn from other animals about loyalty and devotion in response to compassion is magical. It’s a message of trust that we depend on each other.
We can’t bond with an animal we ignore. If we teach our children it’s ok to forget their responsibilities or that an animal’s pain, fear, suffering and loneliness is not important because “it’s only an animal,” our children won’t learn compassion. If a child’s pet is condemned to a life alone, apart from his animal family and the family who decided it was their right to own him, the power of bonding and connecting with that animal is lost. Humans wont see what is obvious, that the fence, cage or chain is your personal escape from caring.
What if we taught our children that when we care for other animals with the respect they deserve we grow as humans. What if our kids learned at a very early age that caring for animals, recognizing their needs and returning their devotion made us not only more ethical and humane but smarter and more aware as human beings about the needs of our planet.
What if we raised a generation of compassionate youngsters who knew that what they do matters not just for themselves individually but for every being that their lives touch. What if we raised a generation to understand the connections between their choices and the fate of other peoples, other species and the earth.
The knowledge that comes with caring for animals can give the next generation an enlightened view that is humbling and healthy. When humans have the ability to see beyond their feeling of supremacy they have achieved one of life’s greatest secrets. The ability to see the light of understanding in an animal’s eyes gives humans the ability to recognize their light within. It’s the light of awareness and mankind’s best chance to see his connection to the world.
As a youngster, Schweitzer knew that his existence should never be in conflict with any animal. “As long as I can remember, I have suffered because of the great misery I saw in the world,” Schweitzer said. “An old, limping horse being dragged along by one man while another man struck him with a stick as he was being driven to the slaughterhouse haunted me for weeks.” Schweitzer’s evening prayers always included all living creatures and it was incomprehensible that prayers were only for human beings. He was certain that the basic tenet of an ethical philosophy, one he named “reverence for life,” included all beings and was steadily gaining recognition. That hope gave Schweitzer the strength to not give up on man.
It’s not too late. Yes, it’s sobering. But it’s also uplifting. There is power in compassion. Allowing other species to have a place in this world, would it cost us that much? Living within our means to support all beings is not that great a sacrifice. But when it comes to saving the earth it is, in fact, a very good start.
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