Saturday, April 5, 2014

Empathy: Why I Became a Vegetarian

Gentleman Bud. Buddy has more ability to show empathy than most humans I've known. He is an eight-year-old chocolate lab and 100 pounds of pure love. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

My dog, Buddy, is one of the most compassionate and loving animals I've ever known, especially with other animals. He listens carefully to the sounds made by other animals and responds appropriately. Years ago, my son had a dog named Brewser, a much smaller chocolate lab who had seizures when he was afraid. I've posted before on my Blessed Little Creatures blog about the fact that when we adopt animals we have no way of knowing about their past and sometimes they come with burdens too great for them to bear, just like humans. Brewser was such an animal. When Brewser became frightened he cried like a child. 

Buddy, Baby, who was rescued from the New Mexico desert, and Buddy's sister, Holly watching Dad cook (they're not begging, really, just supervising). Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

When this happened at our home, Buddy crawled "commando-style" to Brewser's side, moving softly, quietly, through the gunfire in Brewser's mind to remain undetected, and when he reached Brewser he licked his nose and make soft, comforting sounds until Brewser stopped shaking. Brewser's body language showed fear. Buddy read that fear and responded with compassion. We never knew what happened to Brewser to create such intense feelings in him. We still don't know what happened to Buddy that helps him connect empathetically to other creatures in ways that some humans find impossible to do. 

Baby, Buddy, Holly and Chewy--the "pack"--waiting for Dad to come in the door. They jump up when they hear his truck in the driveway. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

What I do know is my personal experience in watching Buddy connect with other animals and humans has reinforced in me my dedication to vegetarianism. I know animals have emotions. I know, in my heart, that animals have the right to be treated with kindness and compassion. We are their caretakers, and that is a great responsibility. When I see photos of men beating sick and frightened cattle it makes me want to vomit, and anyone who is capable of feeling empathy should feel the same way, but this IS our food industry. It is cruel and abusive, and it must be changed.

Why I Became a Vegetarian
I have been a vegetarian since I was a teenager and collected quotes on vegetarianism for many years, posting them in my journals, writing about the thoughts and feelings they inspired. There are many aspects to the issue of vegetarianism, including compassion for all living creatures, which addresses the treatment of animals before they are slaughtered and suffering and pain they endure; the perceived need to eat animal flesh to survive; and the ethical issues involved in taking the life of another living creature. 

Deer in Kingsland, Texas. During hunting season they often come into town seeking safe haven. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

These quotes cover many of these issues. They form a statement of sorts, an explanation of why I have taken a vow to never intentionally harm another living creature. I am not perfect, I sometimes fail in my goal not to harm, but I do try my very best, and these quotes are my inspiration.


Author Rai Aren--Rai Aren is the author Secrets of the Sand, an archaeology adventure, historical fiction novel and Amazon Kindle bestseller. Her book received the silver medal in the 2009 Readers Fiction-Mystery category. 

One of my favorite quotes from her book: "Know that the same spark of life that is within you, is within all of our animal friends, the desire to live is the same within all of us." When asked about her decision to become a vegan, Aren replied, "I made the choice...because I will not eat (or wear, or use) anything that could have an emotional response to its death or captivity. I can well imagine what that must feel like for our non-human friends--the fear, the terror, the pain--and I will not cause such suffering to a fellow living being."

Chewy was abandoned in the forest that surrounded our house in Texas. He came to us in a thunderstorm as we were prepared our home during a tornado watch. He was hiding beneath my truck, whining, begging for shelter. He's been with us ever since, usually hiding beneath the blankets as chihuahuas love to do! Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Philosopher Albert Schweitzer--Albert Schweitzer (Jan 14, 1875-Sept 4, 1965) was a German philosopher and Lutheran medical missionary who left his church position to move to Gabon in west central Africa where he founded the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambarene. He was the recipient of a 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of "Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben," which means "to be in awe of the mystery of life," or more often translated as "a reverence for life." His work at the hospital in Lambarene was his attempt to demonstrate this philosophy.

One of the baby rabbits in our neighborhood. They don't last long due to the large number of coyotes. It is hard to think about, but it is the natural cycle of life, which I do not believe includes humans. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

As Schweitzer explained, "A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all lives which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives." In a similar vein, which also describes his work at the hospital, he also said, "A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help."

Animal Rights and Morality 

Author Henry Stephens Salt--Writer, biographer, and literary critic, Henry Stephens Salt (Sept 20, 1851-April 19, 1939) dedicated his life to fighting for the rights of animals. In his writings, he clearly distinguished between the need for better treatment of animals, an argument popular with many of his colleagues, and his belief that animals have rights. In his treatise Animal Rights, Salt said, "To live one's own life--to realize one's true self--is the highest moral purpose of man and animal alike; and that animals possess their due measure of this sense of individuality is scarcely open to doubt."

Mohandas K. Gandhi, 1940s, photographer unknown, public domain.

Salt was also an acquaintance of Mohandas Gandhi. In a letter Salt wrote to Gandhi in 1890, he summarized his feelings about the connection between humanitarianism and vegetarianism when he said, "I cannot see how there can be any real and full recognition of kinship as long as men continue either to eat or cheat their fellow beings. In 1931, Gandhi appeared before the Vegetarian Society and explained that, "It was Mr. Salt's book, A Plea for Vegetarianism, which showed me why, apart from my adherence to a vow administered to me by my mother, it was right to be a vegetarian. He showed me why it was a moral duty incumbent on vegetarians not to live upon fellow-animals."

Canadian Goose at sunset. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Author Isaac Bashevis Singer--Polish born, Jewish-American author Isaac Bashevis Singer (Nov 21, 1902-July 24, 1991) is known as a leader in the Yiddish literary movement and a recipient of a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. He was also awarded two National Book Awards; one in Children's Literature for his memoir: A Day of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw; and Fiction for his collection A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories. Singer is also believed to be one of the most powerful pro-animal voices of the 20th century.

Kissing Doves in Rio Rancho, NM. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Singer explained his decision to become a vegetarian quite clearly: "My vegetarianism is a great protest, and I dream that there may be a whole religion based on protest...against everything which is not just: about the fact that there is so much sickness, so much death, so much cruelty. My vegetarianism is my religion, and it's part of my protest against the conduct of the world." He also viewed vegetarianism as a moral issue. As he explained, "People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times." My favorite Singer quote, though, is: "I didn't become a vegetarian for my health, I did it for the health of the chickens!"


Activist Thich Nhat Hanh--One of my favorite authors, Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and acclaimed author of more than 100 books, including the bestselling True Love. He is also active in the peace movement and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr. Thich Nhat Hanh said that "Even if we cannot be completely non-violent, by being vegetarian we are going in the direction of non-violence."

Layla Lou our house bunny. She was found beneath our trailer, dehydrated, covered in bugs and with her ribs showing beneath her fur. Now she's fat and sassy. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

He also advocates vegetarianism to protect the health of our planet. In his book, The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology he wrote, "By eating meat we share the responsibility of climate change, the destruction of our forests, and the poisoning of our air and water. The simple act of becoming a vegetarian will make a difference in the health of our planet." In the forward to Joan Halifax's exploration of Buddhism: The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom, he wrote, "Being vegetarian here also means that we do not consume dairy and egg products, because they are products of the meat industry. If we stop consuming, they will stop producing. Only collective awakening can create enough determination for action."

Another baby bunny. We do have many here in New Mexico! Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Author Jonathan Safran Foer--Jonathan Safran Foer is a prolific writer as well as an animal activist. Foer was the recipient of the Zoetrope All-Story Fiction Prize in 2000; the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award in 2003; and was included in Granta's Best of Young American Novelists in 2007. He is also the author of the controversial 2009 non-fiction novel Eating Animals, exposing the horrors of slaughterhouses and exploring the issues of factory farming and commercial fisheries. In Eating Animals, Foer says, "Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I've discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory--disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own."

Mexican Wolf. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

In this same book, the statement by Foer that perhaps has affected me the most is actually a question. "Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn't motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn't enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say now now, then when?"

Baby cow in Utah. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

These quotes are more than words to me, they are ideals, values, principles that I pursue as a goal. Share with me! I invite you to post your own thoughts and favorite quotes on vegetarianism in the comment section below.


D Biswas said...

Empathy is a quality that would make humanity so much better-- if all of us had but a little more of it :)

Damyanti Co-host, A to Z Challenge 2014, Daily (w)rite Latest Post

Twitter: @damyantig

Darla Sue Dollman said...

So true!

Joyce Lansky said...
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