I haven’t been inspired to write lately. Doesn’t really make sense when writing is one of my joys. But, one of the earth’s tiny creatures inspired me today when I was doing the dishes. There was a spider hiding behind our dish sponge. When I picked up the sponge, he ran under an upside down bowl and hid. He was peeking out from under the bowl and I saw he was too frightened to come out while I was staring at him. I moved back and he came out from under the bowl looking around to make sure the giant threat (me) wasn’t there. I came back to the sink a little later thinking he was gone. I started the dishes again and he ran out from under the dish drainer. It was unmistakable that what he was feeling was fear. I am not anthropomorphizing here. When a living being runs away from a threat, it is a desire to live and a fear of being hurt that motivates them.
During the spider incident, I felt how strong my desire was to not cause fear in another being. When we are working as a voice for other living beings we often try to get people to examine the suffering their actions may be supporting. Those wanting to discount the suffering of other beings often argue that we don’t really know if these beings are suffering or we are told that they were treated “humanely” before their “one bad day”.
If I did a random sampling and asked people, “Would you want to cause fear in someone else?” Most reasonable humans would answer “No”. If I asked if they would be willing to cause fear in someone else if they were different physically or culturally, again a reasonably kind human would answer “No”.
But, everyday, otherwise caring humans around the globe are directly or indirectly causing fear in other individuals because they are different physically and/or culturally.
In a recently released film called Unity there is footage from France of two steers (?) in a concrete chute about to be slaughtered. You don’t see the actual slaughter in this footage. What you see is one of them being forced to move forward and a sliding metal door separating the one waiting from the one being killed. The one waiting knows what’s coming and begins panicking and trying to escape. The fear in his actions and his eyes is unmistakable. He tries to pull his enormous body over the top of the concrete chute. Everyone I have talked to who saw this film with all of its graphic and violent footage says that the scene with the frightened steer is the most difficult and heartbreaking. Why? Could it be because they can feel the fear in that animal and relate to feeling absolutely terror and helplessness? When I first saw this footage I felt like I was inside that terrified being and I was sick with fear and sadness.
Here is a link to the 2 minutes of footage:https://youtu.be/ido7N5-hmQw
Last week I visited my old stomping grounds in Maine. I was surprised and saddened to learn that many of the folks who were once ethical vegans are now eating meat. When asked why they went back to eating meat and other animal products, their answer is about wanting to eat locally. I know some of these ex-vegans. These are caring people who try to do the right thing. A few of them have worked in animal rights and education work. Some ran sanctuaries. Somehow the justification of “eating locally” has over-ridden their knowledge of the issues and their compassionate choices.
What I know about these folks is that if I asked them if they would knowingly cause fear in someone else, they would say “no”. I also know that they, like many people who use the “eating locally” reasoning, will eat meat and other animal products that are not actually locally sourced. Once they open that door to supporting animal agriculture, I am guessing that they stop questioning the reality of what they are doing.
I can guarantee that each of these ex-vegans would never do anything to knowingly cause fear in another human, a dog, a cat, a monkey or any being whom they do not think of as “food”. If they saw a cowering dog being threatened by a human, they would step in to help that dog. But the same fear in a being who will be their meal and they choose not to intervene. And, in fact, they choose to slaughter that being or pay someone else to slaughter that being.
So, how do we re-connect people with their most compassionate empathetic selves? These are not people who are unaware of the realities. They have turned their backs on the realities and on the fear and violence they are now supporting. I don’t know the answer. I want to be able to sit with them and ask them if they would knowingly cause fear in someone else’s life.
No matter the size of that someone…from the smallest insect to the largest mammal….we all want to live and we all feel fear in the face of a threat.
I know that there is no way to open up someone else’s heart. Mostly, what I want, is to understand what makes someone’s perceptions change to the point of turning away from a choice that was once at their core. Thinking back on my visit to Maine last week, I wish I had visited with some of the ex-vegans there. I wish I had some slow mindful time with them to ask questions and to understand more of their process and path. My next visit, I will do that. In the mean time, if you know of someone who was once practicing ethical veganism and is now eating animal products, can you inquire for me? Can you send me their response? Please do this in a non-judgmental way.
For every being, large and small, I want to thank you for helping me gain some insight into this. And to that kitchen sink spider, thank you for starting my thought process around fear.