Peace Begins with Empathy

I was recently referred to as an “animal lover.” This took me by surprise. I haven’t thought of myself as an animal lover. Not really. 

Sure, I love dogs. Baby animals are adorable. But I’m scared of geese; they can be aggressive. I’ve been scratched by cats one too many times. A mouse in the house is my worst nightmare. 

I don’t “love” all animals, just like I don’t love every person on this planet. But I would never want any being (human or animal) to be mutilated, tortured, or murdered. 

I would never want to be trapped in a cage so small, I could only take one step forward or back my whole life, never able to turn around.* I would never want anyone to exploit my female reproductive system, kill my babies and use my milk, and kill me when I’m no longer profitable.** I would never want to be force-fed with a tube down my throat,*** mutilated, impregnated and kept dehydrated,**** caged, suffocated, plucked,***** skinned, beaten; have chemicals tested on my eyes and skin. 

I would never want this to happen to me, to my family, to any person. I would never want this to happen to my dog. Why would I let it to happen to another animal? 

Animals are conscious, sentient beings, who can experience pain, fear, and suffering. They respond to the world; they play, they fight, they flight.

Animals can display signs of stress. Mammals and birds have a developed nervous system. Capacity to experience pain is actually part of survival. Avoiding pain has biological usefulness. Scientists have developed “grimace scales” for animals to reflect physical changes that are indicators of their pain.

If you have ever seen an animal slaughtered, you will see they resist, pigs squeal in fear, chickens flutter in distress. They want to live. 

Unfortunately, many people only interact with animals by way of the meat on their plate. 

The Baha’i Writings say,

“The physical sensibilities and instincts are common to animal and man. Man is, however, negligent of this reality and imagines that sensibility is peculiar to mankind, therefore he practices cruelty to the animal. In reality what difference is there in physical sensations! Sensibility is the same whether you harm man or animal: there is no difference. Nay, rather, cruelty to the animal is more painful because man has a tongue and he sighs, complains and groans when he receives an injury and complains to the government and the government protects him from cruelty; but the poor animal cannot speak, it can neither show its suffering nor is it able to appeal to the government. If it is harmed a thousand times by man it is not able to defend itself in words nor can it seek justice or retaliate.”

– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 373-374

“For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man. Man hath not grasped this truth, however, and he believeth that physical sensations are confined to human beings, wherefore is he unjust to the animals, and cruel. And yet in truth, what difference is there when it cometh to physical sensations? The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast. There is no difference here whatever. And indeed ye do worse to harm an animal, for man hath a language, he can lodge a complaint, he can cry out and moan; if injured he can have recourse to the authorities and these will protect him from his aggressor. But the hapless beast is mute, able neither to express its hurt nor take its case to the authorities. If a man inflict a thousand ills upon a beast, it can neither ward him off with speech nor hale him into court.” 

– Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pg. 158-160

You don’t have to be an animal lover to be a vegan, just like you don’t have to love every person to believe everyone deserves a life free from violence, abuse, and oppression.

But empathy is a vital first step to compassionate action, to living a compassionate life. Empathy is being able to imagine oneself in the situation of another. Empathy is the ability to sense another being’s emotions, feelings, experience.

Empathy is what drives us to help strangers. To protest. To donate. It’s the anger you feel when you see a knee on George Floyd’s neck as he says he can’t breathe. It’s the pain you feel when you see and hear children crying as they are separated from their parents at the border by this Administration’s policies. It’s the activism we engage in on behalf of complete strangers.

We don’t need to feel “love” to begin building a better world, but we do need empathy. Empathy and action.

Peace begins with empathy. 

* Methods of Extreme Animal Confinement such as Gestation Crates. 
** The Dairy Industry 
*** Foie Gras 
**** Premarin (Pregnant Mare Urine) Prescribed for Menopause 
***** Live-Plucked Down and Feather Farms 

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