Based on the 'This I Believe' NPR radio series detailing my belief in kindness to animals.
Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives. – Albert Schweitzer
I believe in being kind to animals – pets and wildlife. It sounds a bit corny, but I think showing compassion for animals is a major tenet to being a good person.
Studies show that those who abuse animals are more likely to hurt people. A study done in 2000 by Verlinden of nine school shootings in the United States reported that five of the eleven shooters had histories of animal abuse. One of them, Luke Woodham, tortured and killed his pet dog six months before murdering his mother and two schoolmates. Most serial killers started with animals and then progressed to humans, or hurt animals concurrently with humans. Most people who are on death row for murder admit to abusing animals as children. A study done by the Massachusetts SPCA and North Eastern University found that those who abuse animals are five times more likely to abuse humans.
Although my first example focuses on animal abuse, I know that not everyone will take it to such an extreme and it is not my only concern in regards to animal welfare. Refraining from hurting an animal is only one facet of kindness. Kindness also means take care of your pets: cleaning up after them, giving them love and attention, taking them to the vet when they’re sick – you wouldn’t expect your son or daughter to hobble around with a broken hip because you couldn’t afford the doctor’s visit, would you?
If you don’t particularly like animals, that’s fine. I’m not saying that everyone should be an animal lover, or become a vegetarian or have pets. No lifestyle change is required. All that’s required is grace and compassion when dealing with animals in your day-to-day life – and everyone runs into animals at some point during their lifetime, even if they actively try to stay away from them.
You might ask, “What does feeding my cat or petting my dog have to do with being a good person?” Think about it: If one can’t bring oneself to be nice to an animal, how could one ever hope to coexist with the rest of humanity? Animals can’t insult you, pick fights or be late for an appointment. They carry no malice or hatred. They will never purposefully embarrass you or lie to you. Humans are known for all these things and more. If you can’t curb your temper with animals, how can you expect to keep it under control when stepping into the realm of convoluted and crazy human relationships?
If you can’t tolerate animals, how could you ever entertain the notion of having children? Babies, in the first weeks of life, require feedings every three to four hours – even at night, when you’d rather be sleeping – and diaper changes even more often. The only way they know how to communicate is through crying, and they are certainly good at crying! You can’t drop your child off at the local animal shelter when your patience is wearing thin. Animals are much like babies, both in their behavior and the care required. If you can’t handle one, you certainly can’t handle the other.
Cultivating respect in oneself for the furred and feathered inhabitants of our world can transcend to provide building blocks for human relations. It can teach one empathy, compassion, and patience and give a crash course in learning to ignore minor irritations – and I will be the first to admit that animals can be annoying.
The first two, empathy and compassion, are traits that many people seem to be missing. It’s not surprising, considering the fast-paced, technology-driven, disconnected world we live in. The Daily Beast has an article titled, ‘Parent Like A Caveman” by Danielle Friedman. In it, Friedman discusses how empathy, compassion and consciences are on the decline in today’s youth. To paraphrase the article, she basically said that we should parent like cavemen. Studies have been done detailing how they lived and modern tribes that operate in much the same way have also been studied and the agreement among the researchers is: cavemen’s kids were nicer than ours. One of the reasons given for this is the general attitude of those “primitive” people. Researchers believe they were generally non-violent and were remarkably generous and cooperative. They taught their children respect for the world around them and each other, knowing that without this, they could not survive.
The last, patience and the ability to ignore or work around annoyances, are necessary skills for getting by in today’s world, unless, of course, you want to go to jail for losing your temper and beating the crud out of the guy that cut you in line at the coffee shop – an extreme example, but you get the point.
What it boils down to is this: I think it is the general consensus that humans today are changing, in some ways for the better, in many ways for the worse. I believe that fostering appreciation within oneself for the animals, and by extension the world, around us is an effective counter to this problem and one step on society’s road to recovery, if you will. I believe developing compassion for those weaker gives one several valuable traits and skills that are easily transferable to just about anything in life. Lastly, I believe the simple act of giving Fido a pat on the head can make our world a better place.