This I Believe

Michelle - Jupiter, Florida
Entered on November 6, 2006

It’s not About Love, It’s About Respect

Written for “This I Believe”

I believe in the power of compassion.

As an animal author and activist, I often hear the words “How can you care so much about animals and the environment when there are people suffering”.

This gives me pause and so I wonder: Is the ability to care for humans and non-humans alike non-existent? I hurt deeply when I learn of people who suffer, those who are desolate, hungry, saddened, friendless and victimized. My heart breaks for those who dare not speak up for themselves, the vulnerable and the exploited.

But my spirit shatters for the animals who try to make their way in the world and in doing so, are met with loathing and indifference, interference and competition. My compassion for the animals in the world does not take away from my compassion for the people. Compassion is not a substance that must be divided and parceled out, it is massive, it is universal, and it is both proud and humble.

I believe that you do not have to love to show respect. My compassion for the animals of the world is not born of love. Indeed, I find it challenging to find a morsel of love in my heart for a tarantula, though I know there are those who do so easily. Compassion is born of respect for the animals to be who they are. When my cat kills a lizard, I don’t love her in that terrible moment but I respect that the hunter in her was too powerful for her to overcome. She wants to be a lovely pussycat, she does, but the brave tiger in her sees the lizard and, well, here we are.

It’s difficult, too, to love the Orca when I see video footage of his torture of a helpless seal. It is hard to love a snake when he preys upon a fluffy, innocent bunny. So I believe with all my heart that love is not necessary for compassion. Bunny huggers notwithstanding, it’s not about love, it’s about respect.

The Native Americans knew that. Even as they slaughtered animals out of necessity, they did so with reverence and deference. They knew that each life had a purpose, a destiny, a worth. Chief Seattle, so very wise, said “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

His words astound me! How did he know this so very long before the advent of “new-age books”, without the help of Peta and Greenpeace and Ralph Nader? How is it possible that he understood that concept more than a century ago?

And so, I believe that when we show compassion to anyone, be it a field mouse or a fallen congressman, we make the world a better place in which all of us can thrive. I believe it doesn’t begin with love, it begins with respect.

This, I believe.