If and only if I had been born vegan would I have had no part in exploiting animals. I’m continuously haunted by the fact that I’ve eaten animals in my lifetime. I’ve also shamefully admitted before on this blog that I used to be a patron of both the circus and the aquarium, and I even wrote an article about it on Our Hen House. I’ll never be able to forget my contributions to animal suffering, which is why I still have compassion toward others who haven’t quite yet made the connection.
I recently read the following from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “How To Sit”:
“Compassion brings courage, and courage brings true happiness. When you have great compassion in yourself, you have the capacity to act with courage. You have enough courage to look deeply at old habits, acknowledge fear, and make decisions that can cut through craving and anger. If you don’t have enough compassion for yourself and for others, you won’t have the courage to cut off the afflictions that make you suffer.”
Reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s thoughts on compassion couldn’t have come at a better time. Recently Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey announced that they are planning to retire the elephants in three years, and the amount of negative comments I saw on social media was astounding. I have heard everything ranging from ‘three years is not soon enough’ all the way to ‘the elephants will just be released to a breeding facility for zoos.’ If we as activists expect to make strides toward a more compassionate world, we need to be more positive and celebrate the victories!
I was listening to Jamin Singer and Mariann Sullivan from Our Hen House talk about this on their most recent podcast episode, and much to my delight they were expressing my exact feelings. As Mariann and Jasmin pointed out in the podcast, Ringling acknowledged there has been a shift in public sentiment, which is how the company came to their decision. This is something to celebrate in itself! Mariann stated, “You have to savor the victories, as flawed as they may be.” I couldn’t agree more.
In addition to the Ringling announcement, that same week the tragic news surfaced of the suicide of Jose Luis Barbero, Spanish dolphin trainer who was set to be the senior VP of the Georgia Aquarium. Once again I saw on social media the absolutely awful comments being posted of people celebrating this man’s death.
The behavior I saw happening on social media is inexcusable. We as the general public really have no clue as to what was going on in Barbero’s life. When I was studying psychology at college, I learned about the Milgram experiment where participants obeyed an authoritative figure even if it went against their beliefs. I’m not concluding that this is what happened with Barbero, but it is a possibility. In my opinion, being more understanding and compassionate toward others will help us be better activists for the animals.
As a group whose mission is to end violence against animals, it deeply saddened me to see others act so cruelly toward another person, even if he was accused of the horrific crimes of abusing animals. As I previously mentioned, unless someone was born vegan, chances are they didn’t know any better at some point in their life. People are constantly making drastic life-altering changes, so I believe it’s completely possible to become a more caring and compassionate person.
In the end, I believe we should always practice compassion toward ourselves and one another. As Buddha once said, “Hatred will not cease by hatred, but by love alone. This is the ancient law.”