Our relationships with nonhuman animals are complicated, frustrating, ambiguous, and paradoxical. When people tell me that they love animals and then harm or kill them, I tell them I’m glad they don’t love me. We observe animals, gawk at them in wonder, experiment on them, eat them, wear them, write about them, draw and paint them, move them from here to there as we “redecorate nature.”
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People are starting to pay attention to their carbon footprint — how their lifestyle choices tread on the earth. We need to also pay attention to our compassion footprint. In their own ways, animals are constantly asking us to treat them better or leave them alone, and they’re fully justified in making this request. If they could put the request into words, what might their manifesto look like?
1) All animals share the earth and we must coexist. “Redecorating nature” refers to the global tendency, almost a human obsession, to move into the living rooms of other animals with little or no regard for what we’re doing to them, their friends, and their families. We unrelentingly intrude because there are too many of us and because it’s so easy for us to do. We also shamelessly overconsume.
2) Animals think and feel. Like any good manifesto, this one includes a gentle call for action that mixes facts with values. We all need to raise our consciousness about the lives of our fellow animals and change the current paradigm, in which those who work on behalf of animals and the environment are seen as “radicals” or “extremists.” No one should be an apologist for passion, and no one should be ashamed, or shamed, for feeling.
3) Animals have and deserve compassion. The late theologian Thomas Berry stressed that our relationship with nature should be one of awe, not one of use. All animals, including humans, have a right to lives of dignity and respect, without forced intrusions. We need to accept all beings as, and for who, they are. All animals, all beings, deserve respectful consideration simply for the fact that they exist, and this alone mandates that we coexist with them.
4) Connection breeds caring, alienation breeds disrespect. Our alienation from animals and nature kills our hearts, and we don’t even realize how numb we’ve become until we witness the beauty of nature and the wonder of life: a squirrel performing acrobatics as she runs across a telephone wire, a bird alighting on a tree limb and singing a beautiful melody, a bee circling a flower, or a child reveling at a line of ants crossing a hiking trail. In these small moments, we feel our inherent connection to all creatures and all of nature.
5) Our world is not compassionate to animals. We must stop ignoring their gaze and closing our hearts to their pleas. We can easily do what they ask — to stop causing them unnecessary pain, suffering, loneliness, sadness, and death, even extinction. It’s a matter of making different choices — about how we conduct research, how we entertain ourselves, what we buy, where we live, who we eat, who we wear, and even family planning.
6) Acting compassionately helps all beings and our world. More and more people around the world are truly concerned about how we affect the lives of animals. More than ever we understand that coexistence with other animals is essential, that our fate is tightly bound with theirs. To a very large extent, we control the lives of other animals. We’re their lifeguards. It’s essential that we move rapidly to make kindness and compassion the basis of our interactions with animals. We shouldn’t be afraid to make changes that improve animals’ lives. Indeed, we should embrace them. Such changes will only help heal our world and ourselves.
It’s really pretty simple. This animal manifesto is a plea to regard animals as fellow sentient, emotional beings, to recognize the cruelty that too often defines our relationship with them, and to change that by acting compassionately on their behalf.
Unlike our carbon footprint, our compassion footprint is something we need to make bigger. If we try to bring forth our innate compassion with every being we meet, we will always be making progress and expanding our compassion footprint. I’m an optimist and a dreamer, and I think that the future can be a much better one for animals, nonhuman and human.
Marc Bekoff is a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The author of many books, including The Emotional Lives of Animals, The Animal Manifesto, and The Ten Trusts (with Jane Goodall), he lives in Boulder, Colorado, and lectures throughout the world.
This article was first posted at Change.org.